Los Farallones

Dispatches from Point Blue’s field station on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Bringing in the New Year – Farallone Style

Happy 2013 from all of us at SEFI!  We have been celebrating the holidays and the new year with surprising style for being located in a remote field camp.  Our original scheduled boat day to bring us resupplies and food on Saturday December 22nd had to be canceled due to foul weather, leaving us with possibility of celebrating Christmas with a dinner of cans of beans and corn.  Amazingly enough, thanks to efforts of skipper Harmon Shragge and his crew on the sailboat named French Kiss, we were restocked with a bountiful amount of food on Christmas Eve.  As a reward for their generous patrol run, everyone aboard the boat was treated with an island tour in almost perfect weather!  On the menu for Christmas dinner included turkey, gravy, homemade stuffing, seasoned green beans, marshmallow yams, crescent rolls, and two varieties of pie, all made by the SEFI Winter Crew.
A Christmas feast
The whole crew together at Christmas dinner!
In additional to the wonderful dinner that everyone pitched in to make, our holiday spirit was accentuated by the strings of colored lights running through the house as well as a mini decorated Christmas tree complete with presents from Santa.  Santa was kind enough to bring us multiple boxes of chocolates as well as PRBO Conservation Science hoodies, shirts, and hats!
Dressed in our new gear!
Although this year’s elephant seal season has started off slow it is beginning to pick up steadily with at least one cow arriving per day.  At this time last year we had recorded 17 cows and 7 pups on the island.  Over the past few years, the SEFI elephant seal population has been on a slow but steady decline.  This is more than likely attributed to the degradation of suitable haul out habitat: Over the past 15 years we have experienced more frequent and violent storm events, which have washed out much of the sandy island access areas.  In years past, cows have arrived at the island and been able to haul out onto a nice sandy gradual incline leading up to the pupping areas.  In recent years, cows hauling out onto the island are met with rocky terrain involving a steep climb – tough travels if you are an elephant seal!  The lack of sand in the breeding colony areas makes it a bit more uncomfortable for these pregnant cows to move across the access points and into the pupping sites. We believe that many of these cows are immigrating to the nearby Point Reyes breeding colony, approximately 20 miles northeast of SEFI.
As of today, we currently have ten cows on the island with four pups, which we are able to see from the elephant seal blind.  All of them have hauled out on Sand Flat minus a younger cow named Prima, whom we do not think is pregnant.  Prima has been hanging out up on the Mirounga Beach Marine Terrace.  Some of our newest arrivals include Maddy, who just hauled out onto Sand Flat three days ago.  Maddy was first tagged as a weaner in 1999, which means she is now 13 years old!  It looks like she will be one of the cows to give birth this season.  
The shot of the breeding colony areas. Sand Flat is located in the lower left hand corner.
Prima on the grass at Marine Terrace
Much to our surprise, Rose, a skinny cow who arrived two days ago, and whom no one thought was pregnant, gave birth yesterday to our fourth pup of the season!  Rose was first tagged as a weaner in 2007 and is now six years old.  Our beloved SA-4 male Guthrie, whom always seemed a bit slow and apprehensive, and was at the tail end of many jokes (lovingly of course) has disappeared and has not been s
ighted for two weeks.  Where he has gone, no one can say.  Herzog remains the bull of the Sand Flat harem and currently has nine cows with him, including both Maddy and Rose.
Rose on Sand Flat with her new pup
Guthrie calling on Omega Terrace

One of the most exciting events of the past few days was our first witnessed fight between two SA-3 males, stamped -04 and -07 respectively.  The fight broke out late in the day on the Terrance.  Both males began calling when all of a sudden, -04 charged at -07.  Both males exchanged bites and blows however the winner was clear when -07 advanced onto -04, pushing him back onto the rocks.  -04 remained on the rocks as -07 gave a call and advanced on -04 one last time to give him a few more bites.  With both now covered in bites and blood, the fight was over almost as quickly as it started.  As of today, both males are laying peacefully apart on the Terrace.
-07 (on the left) and -04 (on the right) begin to fight

-07 bites down on -04’s neck.  (Note -07’s stamp on the middle of his body.)

-07 showing off his post-battle wounds