We see what's cooking - with the southern elephant seals on Macca

Return of the nostril-flaring beachmasters

Each year Threatened Species Day (7 September) and the ‘Threatened Species Bake Off (#TSBakeOff)’ coincides with the beginning of the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) breeding season on Macquarie Island, a nature reserve and World Heritage Area. This year, cake sculptors Urs, Jarrod and Andrea created “Leo”, a tribute to the enormous nostril-flaring ‘beachmasters’ who have recently returned to Macca’s beaches. Creating a giant cake tribute to the beachmasters has become a Macquarie Island tradition!

The cake was surprisingly edible considering it was made without eggs or butter – an attempt to avoid wasting our limited island supplies, brought here when we arrived back in March. Our fellow Macquarie Island expeditioners appeared to be fairly dubious while the cake sculpture was being constructed, though they were very impressed when they saw the final masterpiece!

The Threatened Species Bake Off aims to build awareness about Australia’s remarkable and unique threatened plants and animals: https://www.dcceew.gov.au/environment/biodiversity/threatened/commissioner/tsbakeoff.

Southern elephant seals are the largest seal species in the world. They are named after the large proboscis (nose) of the adult males, which is used to make loud roaring sounds, especially during the breeding season. The largest males are called ‘beachmasters’. They spend the majority of their lives at sea but are currently hauling out onto the island’s beaches in preparation for the breeding season and to wait for the females (cows) to arrive. The beachmasters who successfully defend their territory until the end of the breeding season (early November) will not leave to find food throughout this time. They will have to rely on their energy reserves while also fighting challengers and pursuing their cows. There are a lot of beachmasters strategically resting around the station before they claim some territory on the beach. Macquarie Island’s humans are in awe of the enormous creatures!

Southern elephant seals are a threatened species that are protected under Tasmanian and Australian legislation (listed as vulnerable). Annual monitoring has shown the island’s population is experiencing a slow decline. Although it is difficult to understand the reasons for the population decline, it is likely that the foraging habitat of the population is being impacted by changes to Antarctic sea ice extent due to climate change.

Andrea and Jarrod (Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service rangers)