Readers’ wildlife photographs

I seem to have lost this batch of photos, but fortunately reader Loren Russell re-sent them the other day. His notes:

The pix were taken on a trip from Corvallis to LA along Cal 1.  This is the rookery at Piedras Blancas, just south of the Sur Coast.  A wonderous case of back from near extinction, the Northern Elephant Seal [Mirounga angustirostris] was reduced to (?a few dozen?) by whalers in the early 20th century.  This particular rookery dates only to 1990 and is estimated to have reached 15,000 Famously, one several-ton male was aggressively blocking traffic on Route 1 for several weeks a couple of years ago.







Here’s their range. Dark blue represents breeding colonies and light blue the occurrence of non-breeding individuals:


And, a picture from Wikipedia showing the extreme sexual dimorphism in size: males can weigh between 1500 and 2300 kg ((3,300–5,100 lb; over two tons! That’s more than a Volkswagen Beetle), while the smaller females can weigh between 400 to 900 kg (880 to 1,980 lb). The males have harems and battle for access females; this huge male is mating with a female who has a pup. (Males can easily crush the pups if they roll on them.)


Here’s a video of battles for females between Northern Elephant Seals; such battles can result in death:




  1. Posted December 11, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    In the picture of all the females lounging around looks like they approve.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Hooray RWP!

    For best results, this one reads well while imagining Attenborough’s voice.

  3. rickflick
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    These creatures are ugly in a beautiful sort of way. That these “giant slugs” were nearly exterminated invites a comparison to the issue of global warming. Depleting fisheries is an example of the tragedy of the commons. Likewise, the atmosphere can be seen as a scarce resource for dumping carbon. I’m sure many of the same short sighted and ignorant attitudes are responsible for both kinds of calamities.

  4. Simon Hayward
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Went to see elephant seals close up at Ano Nuevo a few times. Very impressive animals close up – I remember being told, as an informal discouragement from approaching, that the males can move on loose sand about as fast as a human can run on loose sand.

    I understand that, historically, the breeding colonies were mostly on the offshore islands as on the mainland beaches grizzly bears were a major predator. However since there has been no popular movement to reintroduce the bears to California’s beaches more space is not available for seals. More unintended consequences….

  5. Damien McLeod
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Love seals

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I feel bad for the poor females who must be somewhat crushed during mating.

    • Posted December 11, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Yes, but think of the mantises and spiders in which the female eats the male after mating!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        I feel bad for those too but at least it’s over quick. The female seals have to endure this over and over again all her life even if she doesn’t want it.

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Excellent. I teach the story of their comeback in my evolution class. The Northern species was hunted to near extinction, and when museum collectors realized that they would soon be extinct some (in)famously went out and shot several more for their museum collection before it was too late! Such was the mind-set of the time. The last remnant population was down to about 2 dozen individuals.
    Meanwhile, the Southern elephant seal species living along the coast of South America were not heavily hunted. Even to this day one can still see the bottleneck effect of the near-extinction up north, where genetic diversity is extremely low while diversity in the south is quite high.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      As species are the southern and northern able to breed? I’m thinking, if they are close enough genetically, would it make sense to strengthen the diversity by introducing from south to north?

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        They are listed as separate species, but I have no idea if they are able to interbreed or not. As is common, we often assign species names to regional varieties.

  8. Joe Dickinson
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I remember when the colony at Ano Nuevo was first opened up for tours. It was a big deal and required advance booking. Then, some years later, completely unaware of the Piedras Blancas colony, we were driving down the coast to Cambria. And there they were, Hundreds of seals just right by the road! Amazing! On one short trip, we were able to see those elephant seals, sea otters at Moss Landing and California Condors at Pinnacles National Park, three great comeback stories.

  9. Tom Brown
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been there. It’s worth seeing for sure.

  10. Derek Freyberg
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that, unlike in real elephants, the “trunks” appear as the seals age – young males just look like regular seals. I suppose that people who know can estimate the age of an elephsnt seal by “trunk” size.

  11. Diane G.
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    Great pictures, Loren!

    I wish the BBC videographer hadn’t such a penchant for extreme close-ups.

  12. busterggi
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

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