The subadult males are coming in to molt at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal viewing site, so the seals are larger and there is more action than in recent months. These guys —we call them “SAMS”—spend a lot of time sizing each other up.
The “I’m bigger than you” game involves vocalizing as they compete for the deepest voice. Onlookers say it sounds like they’re belching and, although the voice may be loud, most of these boys don’t yet have the echoing quality that is unique to the adult male voice.
The game also involves stretching, turning it into “I’m taller than you.” If neither of these moves intimidates one of them, the two SAMS will begin a sparring match.
The thrusting and parrying as they duck, dodge and bang their necks together, is almost like a series of fencing moves. They may nip each other’s necks, but there is no fierceness to it. It looks like playing, and when they get tired, they may just relax and hang out like buddies. They are practicing for the days of serious fighting that await them as adults competing for mating rights.
As adults, one alpha male will have a harem of 30 or more females, and the younger, smaller males will be chased off, with fights becoming more frequent as they get larger and stronger. Still, many males will never get a chance to mate during their lifetime, being chased away from the females during the mating season year after year.
Men who are watching the seals often say something like “What a good life, one guy with all those females,” but they forget about all the other guys with none.
Work is progressing on the new trail and boardwalk at the north end of the parking lot and that area is closed. So far, no heavy equipment has been brought in, and the California Conservation Corps workers are doing it all by hand, so the seals have not been disturbed.
There are many visitors this time of year from far and near, with school out and foreign visitors from around the world, so there are more docent guides at the viewing area near the boardwalk. Look for a bright blue jacket and you’ll find someone to answer your questions about the seals.
An evening of wine, appetizers and live music in the gardens from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 26, at the Cambria Nursery will benefit Friends of the Elephant Seal. Harmony Cellars winery and the nursery are hosting the event at the nursery at 2801 Eton Road at Burton Drive.
Toan Chu, acoustic guitarist, will play, and chair massages by Tamar will be available. Admission is $5, which includes a raffle ticket for items from the nursery, the winery and Friends of the Elephant Seal.
Joan Crowder is a volunteer docent for Central Coast Friends of the Elephant Seal. For more information, call 924-1628 or visit www.elephantseal.org.