From mid-December through March Northern elephant seals come here to give birth, nurse and mate. I took a three-hour docent-led hike 2-3 miles over coarse sand and dunes 30-40 feet tall. Juvenile males frequently rest a mile or more inland while bull seals protect their harems closer to the shore.
This young male unsuccessfully attempted to 'get a little loving' from a loudly objecting female. She'd just given birth to the pup in the foreground. See that sand cloud in the background? Seals cool themselves off by flipping sand on their bodies. (Lots of sand flew the day I visited.)
|Bull, female and newborn elephant seals|
|Seagulls signal seal birth|
Why do females put up with this? Elephant seals have the most extreme dimorphism of any mammal. Not only do males develop a distinctive proboscis (nose), they grow to be two or three times as heavy. Successful birthing frequently depends on a dominant, two-ton male fighting off less patient juveniles.
|Grizzly bear skull on the left compared with female and male elephant seal skulls on the right. Grizzlies have molars to chew their food; seals don't.|
Scientists track elephant seal movements, recently even adding transponders near their jaws to determine when and what they eat. (Mainly small fish.) Like moose, the sexes separate after mating with males following the coast north to the Aleutians and females heading straight west as far as the International Date Line. Doesn't she look like she has a headache? I was glad to realize these devices are only temporary.
|Transponders glued to this female will come off when she molts in the summer.|