This year, I asked that my family join me to see an elephant seal reserve and rookery as my present. And so it was that we spent part of the day of Christmas Eve, hiking through lovely dunes
to encounter 4,000 pound male elephant seal behemoths resting on the beach.
Though enormous, they were surprisingly camouflaged, and the rangers made sure we didn't accidentally come up against an unsuspecting bull lying in the sun. We had to adhere to a 25 foot rule, meaning we couldn't get within 25 feet of the animals. They are surprisingly quick on the sand for about 25 feet and can bite hard, but then they tire. Seemed like a very good plan to me.
The females were beginning to arrive on shore, preparing to give birth over the next month. At around 2,000 pounds, they are much smaller than the males, but they still pack a good punch. One female which was behaving as if she were getting ready to give birth, successfully fended off the advances of an amorous younger bull. You can see the enormous fellow along the water's edge who knows better than to get in her way.
The bulls come on shore and announce themselves with bellows that sound like deep drums reverberating in some sort of echo chamber. For the most part, the smaller males remember the sounds of the more dominant males and stay out of the way of the alpha males. Still, there are times when the bulls want to determine dominance and shoreline real estate, and then they battle. First, they bellow. If that's not enough to get someone to back down, they then rear themselves up as tall as they can. The shorter bull will back down, but there are times when the animals are well matched and they spar, striking and biting at each other. Most of the fights are short-lived, lasting about two or three minutes. The one bout we saw had two males striking at each other until a third, much larger male entered the fray and settled the whole thing.
It was a fascinating day with my family and I'm thankful they were all willing to feed my curiosity. We ended the Christmas Eve by going to Mass and sharing dinner and lots of laughs. It was a perfect day; I hope your Christmas wishes come true, too.