Feb 10, 2012

Valentine's Day and the Northern Elephant Seal



Along the California coast, Northern elephant seal colonies are bustling with activity. The pups that were born early are exploring the wonders of their seashore home, while younger pups continue to nurse from their mothers. If you've never visited an established colony, this would be the time to go. The week of Valentines Day marks the peak of mating season for these remarkable creatures.

Between December and February, pups are born into large groups of females, overseen by dominant bulls, known as “beach masters”. After nursing for about 4 weeks, pups are weaned abruptly when their mothers return to the sea.

The weanlings, having gained about ten pounds a day while nursing, live off their fat reserves for up to 3 months. The pups stay together in groups, playing and exploring the sandy dunes and tidal pools until hunger drives them to deeper waters. 

In early Spring, young elephant seals can be found on mainland beaches, resting and warming in the sun. Pups are about 4’ in length, gray, with a light underside, and they often use their fore-flippers to toss sand on their backs – a behavior unique to the species.

Because elephant seal pups are slow movers and indifferent towards humans, they are easy targets for unleashed dogs and malicious humans. Like all marine mammals, elephant seals are federally protected - disturbing them in ANY way is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violations can be reported to NOAA Fisheries National Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

If you happen to come across a beached elephant seal, do not throw water or sand on it or chase it back into the sea - they are out of the water for a reason and you must let them be. Take note of any signs of injury or illness and report it to the nearest marine mammal rescue center. Our wildlife hotline can help you locate the closest facility at 1-866-WILD-911.