Los Farallones

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

Weaner City 2009

This is every elephant seal lover’s favorite time of year. Plump, big-eyed weaned pups are now the most numerous age class of elephant seals on SEFI. The beaches and marine terrace are strewn with weaners who were left behind when their hungry mothers headed back out to sea after nursing their pups for 25 to 30 days non-stop – without eating anything the entire time.

A newly weaned pup still has its black fur.

This older weaner is still very fat but has molted its black pup fur. It is now a silver-gray color.

Weaners will now remain on the island for the next month, sleeping and playing with each other, and molting their black pup fur until their new pelt is a smooth silver-gray. They will live off their (considerable) blubber for the month, before leaving land and inshore waters for the first time and swimming out into the deep sea to forage for fish and squid. It likely will be the most difficult year of their lives, dodging sharks and searching for food using nothing but their instincts. Ocean climate conditions such as El Niño Southern Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation play a large part in whether they survive. We wish them luck and hope to see them back on SEFI next year.

This is an older weaner that has metabolized much of its blubber. It will soon be ready to head out to sea.