Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Ella is getting bigger every day on her mother's milk. Elephant seal milk starts out watery, at 12 percent fat, and gets progressively thicker as the days go on. Ella will go from her birth weight of 65-80 pounds to about 300 pounds in a month.

Elephant seal mothers do not eat while they are lactating and feeding their pups. Every nutrient that goes into the pup comes directly from her. Her body metabolizes its blubber to make milk. More concentrated milk, with less water, means that much less her body has to produce. By the end of the month of lactation, the milk may be as much as 60 percent fat, making it more like mayonnaise than fluid.

Cow milk is naturally about 3.5 percent fat. Less fat in milk is often desired, and two percent, one percent and fat-free milk are available commercially. Human milk is about 4.5 percent fat.

Ella's mother is getting visibly thinner. She will lose about a third of her body weight by the time she weans her pup.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Filling out

Ella continues to do well. She's plumper every day.

Two more pups were born during the night, bringing the total to seven. One mother was determined to have two pups to herself. She threatened, and even fought, with the other mother.

My observation is that confusion like this eventually sorts itself out. However, maternal-pup separation is the most frequent cause of pup death. Disputes like this can have serious outcomes for pups.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Growing up seal

Ella continues to thrive and gain weight. She's close enough to the beachmaster to enjoy the aura of his protection. Gulls hang around, in case another pup is born.

Two more pups were born near Ella overnight. One was on the outskirts of the beachmaster's influence, and two young males harassed the mother. She was a strong defender, fighting them off, but she was under siege.

She needed help. Another bull, less dominant than the beachmaster, but bigger than the young males harassing her, imposed order. He chased the youngsters away.

Keeping the peace on the beach is an important function of dominance. No need to fight: less dominant bulls retreat. They fight sometimes, but more than 80 percent of dominance interactions do not advance to actual fighting.

The new pup needed his mother's attention.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gaining weight

Ella is rounder and plumper than she was one day ago. She's covered in sand, but seems happy enough about it.

All three of these pups were well within the expected weight range when they were born, 65-80 pounds, three feet long.

It rained a bit this morning, but rain doesn't bother these pups. They seem unaffected by cold, even before they gain much blubber.

A lot of birds on the beach with the seals today: gulls and pelicans. The adult pelicans are in their breeding plumage.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

First pup of the season!

The pup was born sometime overnight December 15-16. The Marine Mammal Center had a pool on when the first seal would be born. The winner got to give the pup a nickname, and won some cookies. Julia Stanert was the winner. She named the pup Ella, in honor of her granddaughter.

One docent reported that Ella didn't nurse right away, but she was nursing well by Monday, when I first saw her. She was already filling out her wrinkly baby skin.

For purposes of this blog, and because she has a feminine name, I'll call her 'she.' Actually, it's not possible to tell from a distance whether she is male or female.

On Tuesday, Ella was joined by two more pups, born nearby.

Ella already looks bigger than her siblings, although she is only four days older. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Stormy Night returns to the ocean

After more than five months in rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Stormy Night has been released to return to her ocean home.

She was a pathetic, skinny orphan when she was rescued from a pile of kelp and driftwood back in January. She had a touch of pneumonia in her lungs from being tossed in the waves. That cleared up with medical care, but she needed food to grow big enough to cope with life as a young elephant seal on her own.

On June 20, she was big enough, and able to catch and eat fish on her own, so she was released at Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Park.

That's her in the front, giving us a last look before she scuttles to the water. Perhaps one day someone will identify her on the beach at Piedras Blancas. Her orange flipper tag number is W0266. It's on her right flipper, as she is a female.

Credit Rebecca Ryan © The Marine Mammal Center

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Stormy Night is growing up

Stormy Night, the first elephant seal pup rescue of 2017, is doing well at The Marine Mammal Center hospital in Sausalito. she has developed a cute habit of sucking on her flipper.
Photo credit The Marine Mammal Center
She sure has filled out since she was rescued as a starving pup. Here's a picture of her from those earlier days.
Photo credit: The Marine Mammal Center
She was so thin. Soon, she'll be ready for release back to her wild home.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Rescued pup update

Stormy Night, the first elephant seal pup rescue of the 2017 season, is coming right along in her rehabilitation. She's active and vocal, but hasn't taken much interest in snapping up fish yet. She continues on tube feeding. She gets three 1,000-cc (about a quart) servings of an elephant seal formula fish-shake made of sustainably caught Alaskan herring, ground up and seasoned with salmon oil, thinned with water, each day.
Stormy Night, photo by Bill Hunnewell © The Marine Mammal Center
This rich formula is helping her gain the weight she needs to return to her wild home. She now weighs 101 pounds, up from the 76 pounds she weighed when she was rescued.
She needs to learn to catch and eat fish before she can be safely released into the ocean. She shows some interest when the staff and volunteers at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito offer her fish.
Her whiskers, vibrissae, extend forward, a good sign. "Veterinary staff are hopeful she soon will take the next step and start identifying fish as a food source," said Diana Kramer, director of the Morro Bay center.
Hartley, the pup who was rescued from San Simeon beach, completed fish school in late March. "She was actively tracking fish and biting them off the string in fish school," Diana said.
Hartley, photo by Bill Hunnewell © The Marine Mammal Center
He's learning to take hand feeding of herring three times a day. "He's working on positioning and swallowing technique," she said. "He's making significant progress daily."
All that fish is helping him gain weight. He's now up to 83 pounds. He's progressing well and will probably be eating on his own soon.
All this care is expensive. TMMC is rescuing eight to ten seals a day. This is their busy season. Presently, over 90 elephant seals and more than 20 other marine mammals are patients at the hospital. They eat more than 500 pounds of food a day, at about a dollar a pound. They welcome donations.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pup rescue at San Simeon Cove

Was there ever a more pathetic pup? This starving weaner stranded on  the south end of the beach at San Simeon Cove on March 21, the first day of Spring. He was reported to the center in the afternoon and by late in the day -- note the long shadows -- a team was out there to rescue him.

He doesn't have much energy, so capturing him was pretty easy. just surround and nudge, and into the carrier he went

Several visitors were on the beach on this sunny but windy day. They were eager to help the pup. Two offered to  help carry the heavy carrier., The pup was several hundred yards down the beach. It felt like a long way carrying him back to the truck.
They named the pup Hartley. He perked up after he got some fluids at the Morro Bay center. "He's been very vocal," said center director Diana Kramer. He was sent to the Sausalito hospital and will be evaluated and treated there. I'll post updates.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


A flock of brown pelicans descended on the north beach at Piedras Blancas on Monday. They were slurping up fresh water in the runoff from ranchlands on the east side of Highway 1.

Many were in the water, catching fish as well.

In 2016, there were reports of a failed breeding season, and it did seem like few birds were on our beaches. I'm encouraged to see so many this year.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Rescued pup update

The first elephant seal pup rescued in the 2017 season is doing well. She's recovering from her ordeal and making progress to being released back into her ocean home.
Stormy Night, as she was named by her rescuers, was tossed onto a pile of driftwood and kelp when hikers heard her cry and called The Marine Mammal Center. She was brought into the Morro Bay facility January 25 and sent to the main Sausalito hospital the next day.
She weighed only 33.5kg, 74 pounds. That's about what seal pups weigh when they are born. She should have weighed 200 pounds or more.
Veterinary staff at the hospital heard harsh breathing sounds in her lungs, indicating a mild case of pneumonia. She probably inhaled sea water while she was being tossed around in the waves. She was treated with antibiotics and her lungs are now clear and healed.
She was evaluated as malnourished due to being separated from her mother. The staff started feeding her elephant seal formula, a rich mix of ground Alaskan herring (sustainably caught) and salmon oil, thinned with water. She got 1,000 cc's, over four cups, of that three times a day.
Volunteers Joy Sherrick and Jon Farhar tube feed Stormy Night after she was first rescued.

She's just started to gain weight, about two pounds. But she has turned around and is healthy, if skinny.
"Stormy Night’s outlook is positive," said Diana Kramer, director of the Morro Bay facility. "She’s active and vocal. It may take several weeks for her to gain back weight she lost after separating from her mother."
TMMC staff are offering her whole fish, and she's interested.
"It's part of the learning process," Diana said. "It's a positive step towards learning how to eat independently."


Monday, February 13, 2017

Black Beauty

This pup wiggled her way right up to the fence next to the boardwalk where visitors view the seals. everyone was delighted with  her. too delighted. they were reaching through the fence to pet her. She didn't seem to mind, but getting friendly with people is not good for wild animals. petting is fine for domestic animals, but it's harassment to wild animals. The Marine Mammal Center sent a team out to rescue her.

Animals sometimes need to be rescued just because they are in the wrong place. Being too close to people -- and their dogs -- puts an animal at risk. this pup's teeth were only beginning to emerge, but a bite would not be harmless. Think, a 100-pound dog biting you.

Ideally, weaned pups should weigh about 100 kg, 220 lbs. She weighed only 57 kg, 125 pounds. not huge, but she was otherwise healthy. The Marine Mammal Center sends weaned pups that have stranded to the main hospital at Sausalito if they weigh 50 kg or less.

They decided she didn't need any further care, and transported her to a more isolated beach and turned her loose. Her future is in the wild.

She has an orange tag, indicating that she was rescued, on her back flipper, number WO217. Keep an eye out for her.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Marine mammal strandings

NASA Scientist Studies Whether Solar Storms Cause Animal Beachings

A long-standing mystery among marine biologists is why otherwise healthy whales, dolphins, and porpoises — collectively known as cetaceans — end up getting stranded along coastal areas worldwide. Could severe solar storms, which affect Earth’s magnetic fields, be confusing their internal compasses and causing them to lose their way?

Humpback whale calf stranded in Alaska
Veterinarians Rachel Berngartt and Kate Savage volunteer with NMFS' Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network during the necropsy of a humpback whale calf that stranded on Baranof Island, Alaska.
Credits: Aleria Jensen, NOAA/NMFS/AKFSC
Although some have postulated this and other theories, no one has ever initiated a thorough study to determine whether a relationship exists — until now. NASA heliophysicist Antti Pulkkinen, who works at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has teamed with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, or IFAW, to determine whether a link exists.

Strandings occur around the world, involving as few as three to as many as several hundred animals per event. Although a global phenomenon, such strandings tend to happen more often in New Zealand, Australia, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, said project collaborator Katie Moore, the director of IFAW’s global Animal Rescue Program. Headquartered in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, IFAW operates in 40 countries, rescuing animals and promoting conservation to secure a safe habitat for wildlife.

“These locations share some key characteristics, such as the geography, gently sloping beaches, and fine-grained sediment, which we think all play some role in these events,” she said.

Skewed Compasses

Another possibility is that these animals’ internal compasses are somehow skewed by humans’ use of multi-beam echo sounders and other sonar-type equipment used to map the seafloor or locate potential fishing sites, to name just a few applications.

“However, these human-made influences do not explain most of the strandings,” said Pulkkinen, an expert in space weather and its effect on Earth. “Theories as to the cause include magnetic anomalies and meteorological events, such as extreme tides during a new moon and coastal storms, which are thought to disorient the animals. It has been speculated that due to the possible magnetic-field sensing used by these animals to navigate, magnetic anomalies could be at least partially responsible.”

Indeed, magnetic anomalies caused when the sun’s corona ejects gigantic bubbles of charged particles out into the solar system can cause problems for Earth-orbiting satellites and power grids when they slam into Earth’s protective magnetosphere. It’s possible they could affect animals, as well, Pulkkinen said.

“The type of data that Antti has accumulated, together with the extensive stranding data at our disposal, will allow us to undertake the first rigorous analysis to test possible links between cetacean mass strandings and space-weather phenomena,” said Desray Reeb, a marine biologist at BOEM’s headquarters in Sterling, Virginia. Reeb approached Pulkkinen about launching a research effort after hearing his presentation about space weather in June 2015.

Massive Data-Mining Effort

With funding from BOEM and NASA’s Science Innovation Fund, Pulkkinen and his collaborators are carrying out a massive data-mining operation. The team will analyze NASA’s large space-weather databases, including field recordings and space observations, and stranding data gathered by BOEM and IFAW.

The artist’s illustration shows how events on the sun change the conditions in near-Earth space.
The artist’s illustration shows how events on the sun change the conditions in near-Earth space. A Goddard scientist is investigating if solar storms are linked to animal strandings that occur worldwide.
Credits: NASA
“We estimate that records on the order of hundreds of cetacean mass strandings will be available for study, thus making our analyses statistically significant,” Pulkkinen said. “We therefore expect that we will be able to reliably test the hypothesis. So far, there has been very little quantitative research, just a lot of speculation,” Pulkkinen continued. “What we’re going to do is throw cold, hard data at this. It’s a long-standing mystery and it’s important that we figure out what’s going on.”

The team expects to complete the study by the end of September and publish its findings in a scientific, peer-reviewed journal. Should the study reveal a statistical correlation, team members said the results won’t necessarily imply a causal link. However, it would provide the first thorough research into this hypothesis and offer the first step toward determining if it’s correct.

“Save More Animals”

“The results of this study will be informative for researchers, stranding network organizers, resource agencies and regulatory agencies,” Reeb said. “If we understand the relationship between the two, we may be able to use observations of solar storms as an early warning for potential strandings to occur,” added Moore, who said she “was immediately keen” to get involved in the study. “This would allow stranding responders in global hotspots, and really around the world, to be better prepared to respond, thus having the opportunity to save more animals.”

For more technology-related news, go to: http://gsfctechnology.gsfc.nasa.gov/newsletter/Current.pdf
Lori Keesey
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Thursday, February 2, 2017

First pup rescued in 2017

Hikers walking along the north end of the Boucher Trail heard a pup barking. They found her tangled in a pile of driftwood in a ravine. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, she became the first elephant seal pup of the 2017 season to be rescued by volunteers for The Marine Mammal Center in San Luis Obispo County.
The pup was in a pile of kelp and driftwood.
The hikers called State Parks to report the seal, who then called The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo Operations Center in Morro Bay. A team of five trained volunteers set off to find the pup.

The ranger helpfully left an orange cone on the highway next to the spot where the pup was stranded.
“Otherwise, it can be very difficult to find the exact place where a seal is stranded,” said San Luis Obispo Operations Manager Diana Kramer.

The crew hiked down the trail and found the pup. No other animals were nearby, and the mother was not located. Too young to survive on its own, and finding the conditions safe to perform a rescue, they made their way over to the animal.
Using herding boards, the trained rescue volunteers maneuvered the elephant seal pup into the large animal carrier. Volunteers at the center handle the pups as little as possible, improving the pup’s chances of being able to return to its wild home in the future.

After the successful rescue, the hikers named the elephant seal Stormy Night. She weighed a healthy 65 pounds, about normal for a newborn.

The pup was covered with black fur they are born with. Elephant seal pups lose their “blackcoat” after about 28 days of nursing. She had some blubber, so she’d had some attention from her mother before they were separated. Stormy Night also had a scrape on her head but was otherwise uninjured.

When Kramer and another volunteer crew member arrived for night duty at 7:30 pm, the pup was barking. Without knowing how long it had been since the pup had last eaten, the trained rescuers tube-fed Stormy Night electrolytes to boost hydration. The pup responded well to the tube-feeding and will soon start on a smoothie-like mixture of sustainable caught Alaskan herring, milk powder and water.

Volunteers Joy Sherrick and John Farhar tube feed Stormy Night
Tube feeding is a sure way to rehydrate a pup.
Stormy Night was later transported to the center’s main hospital in Sausalito on Friday morning, Jan. 27.

Kramer reminds the public that seal and sea lion pups are likely to become stranded on local beaches in the coming months. The best thing for people to do is to keep their distance. It’s OK to take photos and admire the animals, but people should remember to keep a safe distance of at least 150 feet.
Anyone who sees a seal or sea lion in distress in San Luis Obispo County should call our rescue and response team in Morro Bay at (805) 771-8300. The center will monitor the pup for 24 hours or more, depending on the situation and, if necessary, trained volunteers and staff will rescue it safely.

From The Cambrian.

Read more here: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/community/cambrian/article130090689.html#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


January 2 was an unusual day at the bluff. I saw several things I've never seen before: a shark-killed carcass, a shark-bitten bull who will survive, a beachmaster bleeding from fighting wounds, a pup washed to sea and swimming for his life, and another pup nursing so much the milk dripped down.

The shark attacks, reported to Brian Hatfield, the USGS wildlife biologist who follows shark activity, follow a report in the newspaper of a 22-foot great white shark that stole a lingcod off a fisherman's line off Montana de Oro, 50 miles south of here.
These remains clearly show the impressions of shark teeth.

This adult bull was recovering from shark bites to his flippers.

Sharks attack from below and behind. Adult bulls are not thought to be their most vulnerable prey. A big bull like this can turn around and bite the attacker. An injured shark could be unable to hunt.

This beachmaster is the first on the beach, presiding over a harem on the south end of the site. The calloused area on the chest, the chest shield, develops as the seal matures, and is a thick skin that takes the worst of most fights. Bulls rip and tear at each other with their teeth. This one's bloody injuries invite the speculation: What does the loser look like?

One pup got washed out to sea. Apparently, pups can swim when they are born. He was only a few days old, yet swam back and forth in the surf. Unfortunately, he didn't know enough to come back to the beach. It was raining hard and I didn't wait to find out.

On the beach, this pup was enjoying a good feed. a gull came over to steal milk.
It's a mixed bag during the breeding season. Heavy rains are forecast later this week. We'll see how that affects the seals.