This week at the station

This week at Macquarie Island: 29 November 2013

Elephant seal Life

It was around the 7th September, (the day of the Federal election) that the first elephant seal pup was seen on the beach on the western side of the isthmus. The pups are around 40kg at birth. Everyone was so excited, with many heading out to the beach to get glimpses and photos of that seal pup.

Just the week before, on the 3rd, we had started the elephant seal census. Every Sunday, until the 17th November a count was made of all the female elephant seals on the beaches around the isthmus and beyond. On the western side the count was made from the northern most harem (known) of Camp Beach, just below Wireless Hill, right next to the station, all the way down the beach to the rocks at the corner then along West Beach to the jump-up to the West Coast featherbed.

The eastern side started at Garden Cove and then the beaches to the south of Camp Hill to Tractor Rock.

Each side was split into harems, which were known from past counts.

On that first count there were four seals (females) on the eastern side and 6 on the western side, none with pups. The second week, 8th September, the count was similar with 3 in the east and 7 in the west. This time however, there were two pups.

The numbers increased exponentially over the next six weeks peaking at 872 on the eastern side and 1883 on the western side, for a grand total of 2755. The largest harem was at Razorback West which had around 700 females.

Each harem had one male dominant male ‘beach master’, who was always fighting off challengers from every direction. It seemed that at the larger harems the beach master tolerated several other large males who looked after the periphery of the harem.

Added to this was the large number of pups. We never counted the pups but it seemed that most of the females in the harems did give birth. On one occasion while walking along the western beaches I saw 3 births in a 15-minute period.

At the peak the noises were incredible, with pups and females constantly barking in the closely packed harems. There was the occasional roar of the big bulls warding off challengers. Of course there were numerous battles for supremacy and an occasional overthrow of a beach master. Most of these battles were brutal affairs, with one resulting in the death of one of the protagonists.

Pups start to wean and become independent from their mothers after around 21 days. At this time they are 120 to 130kg, a weight gain of 80 to 90kg in three weeks.

By the 17th of November the number of females had dropped to a total of 131. It was hard to distinguish between females who had given birth or males and females who were coming in to moult. Counting the moulting seals will be the subject of the next census.

At the moment the beaches, tussock and any spaces around station are occupied by weaners and moulting seals.

Barend (Barry) Becker

The first elephant seal pup for the season, born on September 7th at Razorback West harem. It is to one side of its mother and is looking towards her
The first elephant seal pup for the season, born on 7th September…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Razorback West harem on the 9th of September consisting of six females, one large male and a single, black newborn pup. The escarpment provides a colourful backdrop
Razorback West harem on the 9th September
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Razorback harem 12 days later (21st September) then the previous photo. This time there are several dozen females and a number of pups. The Clean Air Laboratory is in the background with the slopes of Wireless hill in the distance
Razorback harem 12 days later (21st September) then the previous photo
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
The biggest harem ('Ball Park South') on the eastern side in the beginning of October. It consists of 100 or more females. Many pups are also visible. In the background the slopes of the escarpment rise up from the beach
The biggest harem ('Ball Park South') on the eastern side in the…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Growing in front of our eyes from the fat, rich milk. The image shows a close up of a pup feeding from its mother. There is a lot of milk spilling from the pups mouth and flowing on the beach sand
Growing in front of our eyes from the fat, rich milk
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Razorback West harem at its peak (18th October), consisting of several hundred females and pups
Razorback West harem at its peak (18th October), consisting of several hundred…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Eleven weaners lying around the entrance of the Comms building, including one up on the porch
Weaners around the Comms building
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Weaners on the beach just south of the fuel farm
Weaners on the beach just south of the fuel farm
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)

Macca Gallery

The sun was out on a number of days this week which made everything colourful and great to photograph. We also had a day when the temperature reached the lofty heights of 9°C, which had the wildlife wilting along with some of the expeditioners.
Nat, Ingrid, Jimmy and Marty arrive back at VJM after field training. Nat, Ingrid and Jimmy are wearing the yellow wet weather gear and everyone is carryin a pack (survival) and each have walking poles
Nat, Ingrid, Jimmy and Marty arrive back at VJM after field training
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
While out on the Sunday seal census - the view across Hasselborough Bay towards station and North Head. There are around two dozen weaner seals on the pebbly beach in the foreground. The waters are a vivid blue colour
While out on the Sunday seal census - the view across Hasselborough…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Four gentoo chicks dozing in the sun. They all have their eyes closed and three are standing, though they are slumped with the remaining chick lying on his belly
Gentoo chicks dozing in the sun
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
White coloured southern giant petrel in flight
White coloured southern giant petrel
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Four king penguins standing on the pebbly beach near Gadgets Gully with the waters of Buckles Bay in the background
Four king penguins near Gadgets Gully
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
A close up (top half) of two king penguins at Gadgets Gully, facing each other with their beaks almost touching
King penguins at Gadgets Gully
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
We want to be adults! A couple of king penguin chicks that have nearly lost all their brown downy feathers. The adult coloured plumage shows through. In the background is several dozen king penguins in the sandy gully and on the beach
We want to be adults!
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
View of Garden Cove with a small rock stack in the right foreground covered in vivid green cushion plant, lichen and grass. There is a weaner lying on the pebbly beach
Garden Cove
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Close up of gentoo penguin twins. One is smaller and is partially covered in mud
Gentoo twins
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
This page was last modified on 16 December 2010.