An early returnee

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This week at Davis: 9 December 2011

The first elephant seal of the season turned up on the 16th of November this year, a full 6-7 weeks earlier than usual.

He is a young male seal, probably between 4 to 6 years of age, that has crawled over the sea-ice to the Davis beach to begin his annual moult. Elephant seals have what is termed a catastrophic moult, in that they replace all their outer skin and fur at the one time. They are vulnerable during the three to four weeks that this takes to happen, because the blood vessels usually protected by the thick layer of blubber are nearer the surface, and the animal can be severely affected by cold.

Elephant seals usually group together on land while they are moulting, forming what are termed 'wallows' that are rather noisy and extremely smelly. They return year after year to the same wallow here at Davis. At the height of the season there can be well over 100 seals, a mixture of large and small, on or near the beach.

We spotted another seal yesterday (7th Dec) - so the season begins!

Young elephant seal moulting on the beach at Davis
When you've got to moult, you've got to, despite the date.
(Photo: Alison Dean)
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