Monday, January 13, 2014

A Not-So-Small Miracle


The elephant seals had returned to their birthing rookery once again.  The Cambria beach was pretty much filled with both seals and tourists, and there were quite a few pups already on the ground.
One of the nearby docents noted a relatively small female had been restless for some time and she thought she was about ready to give birth.  A closer look showed she was starting the process, with the pup’s head just emerging but still in its caul.


In a short while the seal’s water broke and soon a large head appeared. From there it was a struggle for the mother since the pup was really quite large. At one point she raised her pelvis and whapped it on the ground several times as if to dislodge this giant package.  Which ended up banging the pup’s poor head on the ground several times.


Finally, out popped the pup.  He was big and quite exhausted and lay there for quite some time. I’m sure he was likely still dizzy from the head pounding his mom had given him.


A seagull moved in, looking for the afterbirth.  Further down the beach at this time, a huge flock of gulls were mustering and shrieking.  Another pup had just arrived into the world and the gulls were ready to feast.
Meanwhile, the new mother turned to sniff and bark at the pup and he responded weakly as they began the critical voice-recognition bonding process. Getting that right is vital in a crowded rookery filled with barking, bleating seals, since being able to recognize one anothers' particular voice is critical for a pup’s survival. 


But the danger to the pup wasn’t over.  In the upper right corner you can see another female who came over to claim the pup. The docent told me that this often happens.  The interloper in this case already had a pup and perhaps got confused and thought the new one was hers, or sometimes females without pups will go grab one away from a new mother.  If this happens before the new mother has a chance to bond with her pup, she won’t recognize the pup’s voice (and vice versa).  And often the kidnapping female comes to her senses and realizes  this isn’t her pup and abandons it also.  The results of that interaction are tragic for the pup.


Though the new mother was quite a bit smaller than the marauding seal, she staunchly defended her new baby. Luckily the fight didn’t result in the pup getting bitten or crushed by the two battling females.


As the fight continued, with much neck biting, the marauding mom’s own pup started barking and bleating loudly.  She stopped and looked back to her pup and, I think , finally put two and two together since her lunges got less and less sure the louder and more desperate her pup’s cries were.  Eventually she stopped and turned  back to her own pup.


Peace returned to this small spot of sand.  The new mother lurched closer to her pup, snuggled down over him and laid claim . A dangerous passage brought into safe harbor.


Another  not-so-small miracle on the beach.  The little guy’s  journey has begun.  It won’t be easy.  Mother nature is often cruel in her indifference, but she is profligate and for the lucky, she is abundant and miraculous. 


Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Wonderful piece Ann! I was there last weekend and was amazed once again. It's a show that never gets old.

Anonymous said...

What an incredible piece of journalism and photography!

Churadogs said...

I was surprised my little camera did as well as it did. Plus, i was shooting into the sun so wasn't sure I'd get anything but shadows.

It's always a heart-in-the-throat moment, watching a birth. Ah, so many miracles on the beach.