Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Elephant Seal Beach - California Highway 1

I happened on this beach full of elephant  seals this afternoon north of San Simeon, CA  and spent quite a bit of time talking to the volunteer guides and learning more about elephant seals than I thought I ever wanted to know.

So it turns out that the males, right now they are all males on this beach, make the trip from here to Alaska's Aleution Islands twice a year.  That's a round trip of about 5000 miles-- twice a year!

Though they seem to be all buddy-buddy here, when they're at sea they travel totally alone for the whole trip to Alaska and back.  And all of the buddy-buddy stuff will stop when the girls show up here on the beach.  They don't eat for the whole time they're here.

The characteristic short elephant trunk nose on the males doesn't develop until they're about four years old.  Full size males can weigh up to 5000 lbs.

This is an immature elephant seal male that's probably a year or two old.  The pups are born weighing about 50 lbs and weigh nealy 300 lbs after 28 days!  After that the mother is done with them and they're on their own.  There's a nearly 60% chance that pups will not make it to maturity.

As a comparison these are harbor seals-- much smaller, and more prominent flippers.

A third species, sea lions, are the size of elephant seals but aren't the same-- their distinguishing characteristic is that they have an ear flap.  And the males don't have the shorty elephant trunk nose.

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