Molly McCormley at UC Santa Cruz Long Marine Lab, CA--Today’s day in the life blog is about weaners! Weaners are what we call pups after they have been weaned. In just a few short weeks they have gone from around 75 pounds to 300 pounds! Every move seems to take a large amount of energy, making a simple crawl from one sand dune to the next look like a life or death struggle, and give you the urge to applaud! These are the seals who don’t quite know what they’ve gotten themselves into by being born an elephant seal!
A weaner scratching itself at Año Nuevo State Reserve not worrying about the tough life ahead of him! Photo: Ashley Pearson
After their mothers leave, they are left on the beach. Even though weaners are much bigger then when they were born, they’re mainly fat! They still need to develop their muscle and coordination before braving the open ocean. Weaners stay on the beach for a good two months fasting, waiting for them to fully develop and molt into their new shiny silver fur, shedding their dark black pup fur. They will lose about one third of their body weight before they leave the beach!
A nice and healthy weaner taking in the sun, notice that this one still has it's pup fur, it hasn't fully molted yet. Photo: Ashley Pearson
Everyday is an adventure because weaners are constantly learning new things about their body. On the beach weaners sit around with other weaners enjoying the company of others. Often you can see their whiskers fully extended as if they are testing out their sensory abilities.
A curious weaner checking out the camera and possibly his own tail! Photo: Ashley Pearson
What makes weaners so awesome it that they weren’t taught what to eat, how to swim, or even how to get to their feeding grounds! They must figure it out all on their own! They are tough little guys, though it may take them a while before they realize how tough they are! Often you will see them at the edge of the ocean testing the water out, or even in stream pools, waiting for the courage to actually try to swim. They will practice swimming and learning how to hunt before venturing too far off shore. They have to learn how to dive to depths of up to 5,000 ft to get food and swim over 8,000 miles for their journey to and from the beach.
Weaners snuggling together at Año Nuevo State Reserve. Photo: Ashley Pearson
Weaners are small (mere 300 pounds) and beginning their lives as elephant seals, and while they don’t really know what they are doing they will return to Año Nuevo State Reserve as tough predators in only 8 short months.
A line of weaners hiding in the dunes away from the harems. Photo: Ashley Pearson