Sunday, February 7, 2010
On the central coast of California, just north of San Simeon (where Hearst's Castle is located) is the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Here pregnant Elephant Seals come during the winter to give birth, then mate, and leave to return to their Arctic feeding grounds.
In early January we stopped by for a visit. The beach was becoming crowded with seals, mostly females with their pups.
The pregnant females start arriving around mid December, with the peak during January. They give birth to a single pup within a couple days of coming ashore. After nursing their pup for about four weeks, they wean the pup and become ready to mate. After mating, they leave to return to the Arctic. During this entire time they do not eat and live off of stored fat reserves.
During this time, the dominant bull Elephant Seals (weighing up to 6,000 pounds!) claim a section of the beach and the females there, for breeding rights. Most of the effort goes into intimidation, but fights do erupt.
Mature males develop a "shield" of very thick skin around their neck which helps protect them from their adversaries' bites. This bull shows scars of previous battles. Since the males also do not eat while here, a large bull needs to be in top condition to successfully defend his mating area.