Thursday, January 20, 2011

Man bitten by elephant seal

A man who was chasing people away from an adult male elephant seal got between the seal and the ocean and was attcked and bitten during the first week of January, The seal was resting on the beach at San Simeon Cove, like this one I photographed January 10. In the distance, a rider on horseback is towing a surfer on a surfboard. The seal is more than twice as large as the horse.
The close encounters between humans and seals make attacks more likely. A subadult male was reported at Leffingwell Landing in Cambria in early January and many seals have made Arroyo Laguna their destination during the breeding season. Last year quite a few pups were born there. Only a conventional gate in the fence separates the public from the field. Visitors open it and walk among the seals. I watched two adults with two young children walking in the field January 17.
It's a worrisome situation. No one wants anyone to get hurt. The docent program at Piedras Blancas is the best defense against seal attacks. By educating the public, fewer will venture within biting range and both sides can remain safe.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Maternity Ward

This newborn reaches up to nurse. Weighing in at 65-80 pounds ata birth, pups gain as much as ten pounds a day for the month that they nurse.

Elephant seal milk can be as much as 63 percent fat. The fat content rises as lactation proceeds over the month of lactation. The mother fasts during the entire time. Water produced for milk must be produced metabolically. She conserves her own reserves by producing less dilute milk.

Marianne Riedman studied elephant seal milk and found herself so attracted to its creamy white color, "like rich vanilla ice cream," that she couldn't resist tasting it.

"The milk did not taste like ice cream or anything else I had eaten before," she reports in The Pinnipeds. "It had no sweetness but rather a nutty blandness and a waxy texture, probably due to its abundant fat."

Her milk collection method is as intrepid as you would imagine it would need to be. After all, how do you get milk from an elephant seal? The temptation is to say, Very carefully, but it's more complicated than that.

She cobbled together a vacuum system made from an old fire extinguisher, which she strapped to her back. She operated the vacuum by pressing valves with her hand. With a funnel attached to the end of a nine-foot pole, connected to vacuum tubing and a small container for the milk, she'd sneak up on a nursing mother and maneuver the funnel over the teat. A few quick sucks were usually all she could get before the mother noticed that it wasn't a pup sucking on her.

"Enraged, she would invariably hiss threateningly or charge me, prompting me to retreat quickly to a safer location," she writes.

Anything for science!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Births gather momentum

Plenty of pups have been born on the beach, with more to come.

Mothers and pups continue to experience some confusion. One visitor said she'd like to make little hats for the pups, so their mothers would recognize them. She was very concerned, but as we stood and watched for half an hour, one of the mothers woke up and took an interest in her pup. By that time, another mother had assumed some protective feelings for the neglected little one, but after some fussing, they settled down, one to one.

After days of rain, today was sunny and pleasant. This little fellow appears to be enjoying the respite from being drenched.