Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo

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Up close, everything about elephant seals is hideous. They’re smelly, noisy, shapeless and angry, and they can barely wait to abandon their young. They are also terrifyingly gigantic!

Elephant seal skull on left, grizzly bear skull on right

Elephant seal skull on left, grizzly bear skull on right

I’m really glad I got to see them, but after the graphic description of their dire, violent, largely hopeless territory-controlling and mating system provided by our tour guide I’m left with a strong impression that if they were to go extinct overnight the sum total of suffering on the planet would be greatly reduced.

It was hot today, so mostly all the seals did was nap. Nonetheless the tension was palpable, with males periodically snapping at each other and bellowing, clearly on high alert despite their torpor.

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My favorite (ok, least favorite) part of the tour was when the guide explained that the fights aren’t usually fatal but occasionally seals kill each other. One year, she recounted, a beached female died from a gash in her side. The neighboring males, she explained, were exited by this development because she “couldn’t resist, and had an extra hole.” She wound up the story by saying “Yep, the males only have one thing on their mind.”

At which point one of the guys on the tour (who I must admit I was already not fond of) smirked at the fellow standing next to him and said “Heh, I must be part seal.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

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