Minute Escapes: Elephant Seal Mating Season.

23 March, 2015

Close your eyes for five minutes and escape your reality to be transposed to a completely different place, with a completely different pace. It’s a five minute getaway.

Elephant Seal Mating Season

We were oh-so-lucky to be in California during the Elephant Seal mating season.
This is one of those moments I’d seen on National Geographic hoping one day to maybe see it in real life, and we just stumbled upon the California Coast at just the right time.

Imagine awkward, 4 ton animals raising their blubbery bodies to head-butt each other, while their much daintier, half ton, female counterparts lazily feed their new young, all piled up on one another on a sandy beach, and there are hundreds of them.

Oh yes, it’s quite the sight.

They’ve spent most of the year fattening up on a 21,000 km migration, evading orcas and great whites, sometimes diving to depths over 1,500 meters to catch their grub, and now they will plop down on this beach for the next three months.

Here they have no predators. It seems like a well deserved vacation, and kind of looks like it at first, too. Yet a closer and confirms both the males and females are hard at work.

The dudes are doing their guy thing and fighting over dominance, using a lot of the energy they’ve gained in the ocean on beach battles, often receiving painful blows and deep scars from their nemeses.

The ladies in the meantime are busy transferring a whopping THIRD of their body weight to their pups. If you were a new mother who just had a baby and weighed 150lbs, in the elephant seal world, you’d drop to 100lbs before your baby was weened!!!

While on the beach they cannot feed themselves, or drink (they get their water from their food anyway,) for three months!

In the podcast you’ll sometimes hear what sounds like a giant sneeze. That’s because the seals need to clear their nasal passages before they inhale.

The sun is blazing and pleasantly warming your skin, the ocean is lapping the beach. Before you hundreds of blobby creatures lie in the sand. Occasionally they worm their way a few feet over, or slap sand over their fatty bodies. The pups suckle on their mothers and make strange barking sounds.
From time to time a male, 3 times larger than his desired lover, attempts to mount her. His advances are anything but stealthy, or gallant, and as he plops his way over, he alerts the dominant male who was basking in the sunshine not too far away.
They exchange dueling roars, then, at a speed that seemed impossible for such massive and shapeless beings, they race toward each other, raise their massive bodies a meter or more above the ground in a gravity-defying feat, and lob each other with all their might.
Though deceiving at first, scene is anything but still. Sand is flying up in perfect arches, pups are calling for their mothers, mothers are quarreling, young males are being harassed away from the group, seals are making bubbles in nearby water pools. You could spend hours watching this circus and not be any closer to understanding what the elephant seals are going through right now, in this 3 month, landlocked, lapse in their yearly cycle.

Put on your headphones. Close your eyes. Press play.

Come back every other Monday for another, completely different, Minute Escape.

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About

With an eclectic background in neuroscience, research, journalism, and design, it’s safe to say Jade’s still a little bit confused as to what she wants to be if and when she grows up.

1 comment

  1. Comment by Corinne

    Corinne Reply 24 March, 2015 at 03:40

    Jade, I love this! So National Geographic! It reminds me of the time that I was in the Pribilof Islands off of Alaska. I was all alone with hundreds of seals during their birthing season. Magical!

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