Category

Elephant Seal

Elephants (Three Different Ones)

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Elephant Seal, Valley of Fire, Wildlife

I am starting to post my images from a fantastic safari experience in Kenya in September, and searched on the term “elephant” in my own stock files and found these three came to the top. I immediately thought “Elephants (Three Different Ones)”. Yes, I am a Pink Floyd fan, naturally. And no I don’t mean that kind of pink floyd. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Elephant arch and stars at night, moonlight, Valley of Fire State Park

Elephant arch and stars at night, moonlight, Valley of Fire State Park
Image ID: 28435
Location: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA

Bull elephant seal exits the water to retake his position on the beach.  He shows considerable scarring on his chest and proboscis from many winters fighting other males for territory and rights to a harem of females.  Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon

Bull elephant seal exits the water to retake his position on the beach. He shows considerable scarring on his chest and proboscis from many winters fighting other males for territory and rights to a harem of females. Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California.
Image ID: 15458
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

African elephant herd, Amboseli National Park, Kenya, Loxodonta africana

African elephant herd, Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Image ID: 29531
Species: African elephant, Loxodonta africana
Location: Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkneys

Elephant Seal, Penguin, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Photos of Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands

Midway through our crossing from South Georgia Island to Antarctica we pass the South Orkney Islands, a small group of islands that lie almost exactly between South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, making them a natural place to pause during our crossing and make a landing to stretch our legs a little. After our sunrise approach to Coronation Island, the icebreaker ship M/V Polar Star anchors and we go ashore at Shingle Cove to visit a colony of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae). The colony is set atop a bluff above the ocean, subject to blasting wind and snow. The wind is so strong that it knocks a chick over now and then.

Adelie penguin chicks, huddle together in a snowstorm for warmth and protection.  This group of chicks is known as a creche, Pygoscelis adeliae, Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Adelie penguin chicks, huddle together in a snowstorm for warmth and protection. This group of chicks is known as a creche.
Image ID: 25026
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Many of the chicks are huddled together for warmth in creches. Adjacent to the bluff is a snow covered slope that the penguins descend to reach a cobblestone beach. The thousands of birds in the colony have worn dirty winding poop-covered paths in the snow. I spend most of my time on the cobblestones, watching the penguins pass back and forth. Entering the water is a dangerous proposition for a penguin, since leopard seals often patrol the shallows waiting to strike.

Adelie penguins rush into the water en masse, from the cobblestone beach at Shingle Cove on Coronation Island, Pygoscelis adeliae

Adelie penguins rush into the water en masse, from the cobblestone beach at Shingle Cove on Coronation Island.
Image ID: 25028
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

So the penguins gather in nervous groups at the water’s edge, making a few false starts before one of the braver individuals finally commits and dives in. Immediately the rest of the group follows suit, rushing into the water in a chaotic sprint. As the waves washing in and out are hard to judge, some penguins mistime their dives and land head first on the rocks, only to pop back up quickly and try again. In a few seconds it is over – the rocks are empty. The departing penguins can now be seen porpoising at great speed out to sea to spend time foraging for food. Penguins returning to shore arrive in smaller groups or individually, but speed through the water in the same nervous way, ending their swim with a leap and an agile stand-up landing onto the rocks.

Southern elephant seal, juvenile. The southern elephant seal is the largest pinniped, and the largest member of order Carnivora, ever to have existed. It gets its name from the large proboscis (nose) it has when it has grown to adulthood, Mirounga leonina, Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Southern elephant seal, juvenile. The southern elephant seal is the largest pinniped, and the largest member of order Carnivora, ever to have existed. It gets its name from the large proboscis (nose) it has when it has grown to adulthood.
Image ID: 25029
Species: Southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

After a while I spot an elephant seal lounging in a pool on rocky reef. I spend some time laying on the rocks (uncomfortable) trying to photograph it at its eye level. I’m not sure I succeeded. After that, a visit to the nesting area is in order, to see the chicks and especially the adults feeding their young. On the snowy slope between the beach and the rookery I witness a southern giant petrel’s attack on a chick that ventured too far from the nest. The result is gory and tough to watch. The giant petrel does not dispatch its catch quickly. It takes about 10 minutes for the chick to die, during which time the skua consumes a good part of it.

Southern giant petrel kills and eats an Adelie penguin chick, Shingle Cove, Macronectes giganteus, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Southern giant petrel kills and eats an Adelie penguin chick, Shingle Cove.
Image ID: 25027
Species: Southern giant petrel, Macronectes giganteus
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Afterward, all that is left is a tattered penguin carcass lying on the dirty snow and a blood-covered skua guarding its kill. The scene is not enjoyable to watch, but I do feel privileged to have witnessed it. It drives home the fact that the dramatic wildlife spectacles we are here to observe are a perpetual and unforgiving struggle for the participants. We leave Shingle Cove about midday, sailing along the South Orkney Islands for a while. Icebergs large and small pass by, set against the snow covered mountains of Coronation Island. One tabular berg that we encounter is measured by the ship’s radar at over 3 miles long. The thing is so large that it takes much longer to reach that expected, distance and size being quite difficult to judge in the clear dry air.

Adelie penguin, adult feeding chick by regurgitating partially digested food into the chick's mouth.  The pink food bolus, probably consisting of krill and marine invertebrates, can be seen being between the adult and chick's beaks, Pygoscelis adeliae, Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Adelie penguin, adult feeding chick by regurgitating partially digested food into the chick’s mouth. The pink food bolus, probably consisting of krill and marine invertebrates, can be seen being between the adult and chick’s beaks.
Image ID: 25008
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Next: Pack Ice at the Edge of the Weddell Sea
Previous: Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
All “Southern Ocean” entries

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

Photo of Elephant Seal Bellowing

California, Elephant Seal, Wildlife

A photograph of a northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) “bull” bellowing on a central California beach. Other elephant seals can be seen on the sand and in the surf behind him. Bulls (adult males) spend a lot of time bellowing to communicate to surrounding elephant seals, including other bulls, the boundaries of their harem and beach territory and to issue challenges to other bulls that approach. The larger the bull, the deeper and louder the bellowing. As an elephant seal matures its proboscis (nose) grows huge, eventually obstructing the mouth and changing the sound of the bellowing so that it becomes a distinctive deep rumbling and popping sort of sound. Very curious and cool to listen to. Note that this fellow has some considerable scarring on his proboscis and about his chest, wounds acquired in combat with other bulls.

Male elephant seal rears up on its foreflippers and bellows to intimidate other males and to survey its beach territory.  Winter, Central California, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon

Male elephant seal rears up on its foreflippers and bellows to intimidate other males and to survey its beach territory. Winter, Central California.
Image ID: 15521
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

Photo of Bull Elephant Seal Bellowing in Fog

California, Elephant Seal, Wildlife

Another photograph of a northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) “bull” bellowing on a foggy central California beach.

Partially obscured by coastal morning fog, this male elephant seal rears up on its foreflippers and bellows to intimidate other males and to survey its beach territory.  Winter, Central California, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon

Partially obscured by coastal morning fog, this male elephant seal rears up on its foreflippers and bellows to intimidate other males and to survey its beach territory. Winter, Central California.
Image ID: 20418
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

Munch

California, Elephant Seal, Wildlife

Check it out, these are two bull elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) fighting for territory and mating access to females. The bull on the right has got the upper hand, having a firm grip on the proboscis (nose) of the seal on the left. It might look funny but it is quite brutal. I’d never seen this particular angle before.

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: 20375
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

Weaner

California, Elephant Seal, Wildlife

This is a “weaner”, a young northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) that has been weaned (is no longer nursing milk from its mother) and is now on its own. In fact its mother has probably already left the beach and is now at far at sea foraging for food. This young elephant seal will likely never meet its mother again.

Northern elephant seal, pup, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California

Northern elephant seal, pup.
Image ID: 00948
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA

Females nurse their pups on fat-rich milk for only 28 days. Shortly before she weans her pup, the female will mate with one or more of the mature bull elephant seals. She will then return to the ocean leaving the pup to fend for itself. At this point the 300 pound pup is called a weaner and its existence is quite precarious. It must learn to swim and forage for itself, living off its fat reserves as it does so. For two months a weaner will remain at the rookery, gradually gaining swimming and foraging skills. If it is successful and survives, it will adopt a diet of squid, fish, rays and small sharks.