Monthly Archives

February 2008

Not What It Looks Like

Harbor Seal, Wildlife

At first glance this looks like a typical mother and pup harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardsi) pair. Its pupping season right now and this scene is repeated on the Children’s Pool beach all day long. However, this pup struggling, and appeared to me to perhaps have been abandoned. At least it had not hooked up with its mother in the several hours that I was there, and one of the seal people told me that they had identified it as separated from its mother since at least 5am that morning. While the mother was hopefully out in the water foraging, five hours is a fairly long time for a mother to be away from her days-old pup. If indeed the pup was abandoned, it is almost certainly doomed. Another nursing mother with her own pup cannot adopt a second, since she likely will not produce enough milk to nurse both pups until they are weaned. The only reprieve it would have is finding a mother who is still lactating but has lost her own pup and decides to adopt it, a situation that has been known to occur. It was heartbreaking to listen to the pup’s cries as it swam and crawled about the beach looking for its mother. As it did so, it would approach most of the adults and try to nurse. Some adults would simply roll over or move away, while others would give it a whack with their foreflipper. Mothers with their own pups were quite aggressive, biting and shoving the lone pup with vigor. The adult seen here did allow the pup to approach, and the two sniffed one another nose to nose in the typical mother-pup fashion. But moments after this image was taken, the adult whacked the pup across the face repeatedly. It was a tough scene to watch. Most of the crowd that had gathered on the bluff to see the pups (which were featured in the paper recently) laughed as this little one (and others) moved about the beach, but I am pretty sure that few fully appreciated the predicament this particular pup was in. Hopefully mother showed up after I left and all was well.

Pacific harbor seals, a tiny pup nuzzles an adult (not its mother), Phoca vitulina richardsi, La Jolla, California

Pacific harbor seals, a tiny pup nuzzles an adult (not its mother).
Image ID: 20446
Species: Pacific harbor seal, Phoca vitulina richardsi
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Here is another image of the little pup, crying while a nearby adult ignores it.

Pacific harbor seal, Phoca vitulina richardsi, La Jolla, California

Pacific harbor seal.
Image ID: 20452
Species: Pacific harbor seal, Phoca vitulina richardsi
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Photo of Elephant Seals Fighting

California, Elephant Seal, Wildlife

Another photograph of two male northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) “bulls” fighting on a central California beach. These two started their battle on the sand and eventually took it into the surf. Note how scarred their chests, necks and proboscis (noses) are, the result of years of fighting and biting and the consequent, almost continuous, series of wounds they bear during the winter mating season.

Male elephant seals (bulls) rear up on their foreflippers and fight in the surf for access for mating females that are in estrous.  Such fighting among elephant seals can take place on the beach or in the water.  They bite and tear at each other on the neck and shoulders, drawing blood and creating scars on the tough hides, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California

Male elephant seals (bulls) rear up on their foreflippers and fight in the surf for access for mating females that are in estrous. Such fighting among elephant seals can take place on the beach or in the water. They bite and tear at each other on the neck and shoulders, drawing blood and creating scars on the tough hides.
Image ID: 20369
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

Male elephant seals haul out of the ocean and establish territories on the beach in December, in advance of females who arrive a few weeks later and among whom they form large harems. Throughout the birthing and mating season, which extends through March, males will fight among themselves to maintain or expand their territory and ward off other males who might mate with the females in their harem. Younger bachelor males without established territories will often try to “pick off” a female and mate with her if possible before the bull overseeing the harem notices. Fights like these are common, especially later in the season when most of the mating is done.

Photo of Elephant Seals Mating

California, Elephant Seal, Wildlife

Here is another photograph of a large male northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) forcibly mating with a much smaller female. This bull holds her down with his enormous weight and even bites her into submission. Females elephant seals, when facing such a suitor, generally squak and put up a token display of annoyance, but do not actually attempt to fight off the male. They know that natural history, and the enormous sexual dimorphism of their species, works to the bull elephant seal’s advantage in these encounters.

A bull elephant seal forceably mates (copulates) with a much smaller female, often biting her into submission and using his weight to keep her from fleeing.  Males may up to 5000 lbs, triple the size of females.  Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon

A bull elephant seal forceably mates (copulates) with a much smaller female, often biting her into submission and using his weight to keep her from fleeing. Males may up to 5000 lbs, triple the size of females. Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California.
Image ID: 15408
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

Rough Sex

California, Elephant Seal, Wildlife

In this photograph an adult male northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) mates with a much smaller female. Note that the female is not given much choice in the matter. This is quite typical in elephant seal society, somewhat akin to human society of a few million years ago. The female’s pup is seen just in front of her, and stands a reasonable chance of being overrun by the event.

A bull elephant seal forceably mates (copulates) with a much smaller female, often biting her into submission and using his weight to keep her from fleeing.  Males may up to 5000 lbs, triple the size of females.  Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon

A bull elephant seal forceably mates (copulates) with a much smaller female, often biting her into submission and using his weight to keep her from fleeing. Males may up to 5000 lbs, triple the size of females. Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California.
Image ID: 20388
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

Also, see this photo of rough sex among otters.

Photo of Elephant Seals Fighting

California, Elephant Seal, Wildlife

Here we see two northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) “bulls” fighting on a central California beach. Male elephant seals haul out of the ocean and establish territories on the beach in December, in advance of females who arrive a few weeks later and among whom they form large harems. Throughout the birthing and mating season, which extends through March, males will fight among themselves to maintain or expand their territory and ward off other males who might mate with the females in their harem. Younger bachelor males without established territories will often try to “pick off” a female and mate with her if possible before the bull overseeing the harem notices. Fights like these are common, especially later in the season when most of the mating is done.

Male elephant seals (bulls) rear up on their foreflippers and fight for territory and harems of females.  Bull elephant seals will haul out and fight from December through March, nearly fasting the entire time as they maintain their territory and harem.  They bite and tear at each other on the neck and shoulders, drawing blood and creating scars on the tough hides, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California

Male elephant seals (bulls) rear up on their foreflippers and fight for territory and harems of females. Bull elephant seals will haul out and fight from December through March, nearly fasting the entire time as they maintain their territory and harem. They bite and tear at each other on the neck and shoulders, drawing blood and creating scars on the tough hides.
Image ID: 20377
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA