Since the start of spring, thousands of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) have taken up temporary residence on many of Macquarie Island’s beaches to breed. Elephant seals are the largest of all seal species — males can weigh over 3000kg. They are called elephant seals due to the size and large ‘trunk’ or proboscis (nose) of the mature males.
Large dominant males (known as beachmasters) arrived first to secure parts of beaches as their territory. Throughout September and October, pregnant females returned to the beaches they were born on, gathering in groups called harems to have their pups. Pups are fed for about three weeks, rapidly increasing in size from about 40kg to 120kg.
There is a lot of commotion on the beaches as the beachmasters battle for the control of harems, females raucously bicker with their neighbours, and scavenging skua and giant petrels are constantly on the lookout for a meal. Some harems can be very crowded — over 500 females were counted in the biggest one this year.
The commotion will now gradually diminish as the black furry pups quickly transform into plump sleepy weaners and their mothers go back to sea to forage and recover.
Andrea Turbett — Ranger In Charge