Elephant Seal Beach Story
Feb 04, 2020
The seals shelter every winter on the beach near San Simeon on the central California coast. The females arrive first to give birth and suckle their young, and the males come weeks later to mate. There are so many animals that it’s hard to know where to focus your attention! Those that aren’t sleeping are grunting, growling, yeowling, or barking. The cacophony and chaos is incredible!
The morning I visited, everyone seemed to be grouchy. Females were squabbling with each other in contests for the best sandy spots. Abandoned babies were squirming up to mother after mother begging for food, only to be chased away. And the males barely rested at all. They alternated chasing other males off the beach and away from their harems with trying to mate with every female that would accept them.
I love watching animal behavior and am really happy when I can capture it in a photo. I like this image because while it isn’t lovely in a conventional sense, there’s lots to look at. I love the ocean and like the contrast of the dark rocks against the white of the tumbling waves. On the beach part of the photo, the big bull seal at the center of had just crashed down on the female under his flippers. I’m guessing that’s a dominance move, preparatory to mating. The female in front of him is warning him off and guarding her baby, and the young female under his tail is trying to squirm out of the way.
At the edge of the surf you see what is probably a juvenile male that has been kept away from the beach by the aggressive older males. I did see one of these juveniles sneak onto the beach and furtively mate with one of the females before being interrupted by the dominant bull who chased him back into the sea.
In the front of the image you see three baby seals next to one female. A docent at the viewing area explained that a female can only support one baby at a time because they don’t eat at all once they come ashore. A female that accepts more than one baby (hers plus orphans) is unlikely to be able to support any of them long enough to ensure their survival.
I hope you’re a nature lover like me and that you find all this a bit fascinating! I can hardly wait to see them again! Thanks for reading!