On Macca we're already a month into the elephant seal breeding season — the first pup was born on 7 September.
Both the west and east coast beaches of the isthmus (where the Macca station is located) are now crowded with large harems of females and the huge males (3 to 4 tonnes). The Beach Masters, as the males are known, either hold their harem territory or snooze with one eye open for a chance.
At present, if you watch a harem for an hour or so, you will without a doubt see a pup born, and watch as the skuas scream in to grab the rich placenta. The majority of pups rapidly put on about 100 kilograms over a three to four week period, and become large rotund ‘weaners’ that gradually move away from their visibly shrinking mothers as the milk supply dries up.
It is not all rosy in the colonies. Some fall prey to the ever-present giant petrels and brown skuas which are also raising chicks or preparing to do so.
The station population is assisting the Ranger-in-Charge Chris Howard to carry out the annual census on the isthmus, which means counting seals every day around the peak of the season (sometime this week). This Monday we are also counting the females on selected beaches around the rest of the island to get a more accurate idea of current populations — no mean feat when there are only 14 expeditioners!