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Our Northern Elephant Seal monitoring project
 
In 2011 Drake High students began reading tags and counting northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) at the Point Reyes National Seashore under the supervision of Dr. Sarah Allen, a senior National Park Service biologist. See us at work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYR-9BEZtBk

The plastic tags on the seal's flippers are about 1" long and have a four digit code written on them.  We use a spotting scope to read the numbers.  The colors on the tags tell us where the seal was born:  Point Reyes (pink), Ano Nuevo (green), San Simeon (white) San Miguel Island (yellow) or even Mexico (blue.)  We also count heads.  Sometimes there are 1000 seals on the beach mating, nursing, fighting, sleeping, giving birth and barking. 

 
We add the data to the NPS database, and analyze it ourselves.  So far we have identified two focus questions:
  • Do young seals stay with with members of their birth cohort even when they migrate to other, far-away beaches?
  • Do young seals try other beaches, but then return to the beach they were born on when it's time to reproduce?
big bull spotting scope

photo credit: Miles Lim.  NMFS Permit No. 17152

If you want to get involved talk to Michael Wing in room 414.

Who has participated:  Josh Abrahams, Jonah Arquilevich, Cooper Borinstein, Emma Burtt, Keale Comstock, Emily Dodge,  Angelina Jimenez-Cameron, Miles Lim, Sarah Jo Millar, Robby Pedersen, Paloma Prudhomme, Isabelle Sarrafzadeh, Tavish Traut, Elizabeth Wing, Savannah Young.
 
in the field  
 

THE LIFE OF THE NORTHERN ELEPHANT SEAL – A Short Play by Elise Wing

Cast of Characters:
Cow #1
Cow #2
Bull #1
Bull #2
Pup
Superweaner Pup


COW #1 (Goes up to COW#2 who is snuggling with PUP):  Hi girl, I haven’t seen you since this time last year!  How are you?

COW #2:  Oh, you know.  Fine – but rearing a pup is hard work when you haven’t eaten for a couple of months.

COW #1:  I know, right?  Fasting while on the beach is a drag.

COW #2:  Not to mention having to nurse them all this time… Still, there’s no experience like having a pup.  And you?  How are you?

COW #1:  Pregnant.  Like always.

COW #2:  That’s right.  Get pregnant during the breeding season on the beach, go out to sea for most of the year, swim out to sea alone, dive for squid and seafood, come back to shore, have a pup, get pregnant again.  I’m pregnant eleven months of the year!

COW #1:  Oh, look – here comes a bull.  Let’s see what he wants.

BULL #1:  Hey, do you want to join my harem?

COW #1:  Well… How big is your harem?

BULL #1:  Just about twenty five or so.

COW #1:  Wow, that’s big!  And can I hear you trumpet?

BULL #1:  (trumpets)

COW #1:  You know, you’re pretty impressive.  I think I might join your harem.

BULL #2:  (Comes up to BULL #1):  Hey!  Is that my wife you’re talking to?

BULL #1:  She’s not yours anymore.

BULL #2:  Says who?

BULL #1:  Says me!

COW #1:  I just want whoever’s alpha.

BULL #2:  Then let’s fight!  (Bulls bump chests, make loud noises, grunt, etc.  Eventually Bull  #2 wins.)

BULL #2:  Take that!  She’s mine now!

COW #2 (to her PUP):  Sorry baby, but I have to go now.  I’ve been nursing you nonstop since you were born and I haven’t eaten all this time.  I’ve lost three hundred pounds.  I have to go out to sea to find food.

PUP:  What?  Mommy, I’m only one month old!  How can you do this?

COW #2:  It’s okay.  You’ll teach yourself to swim and catch food.  It’s what I did.  It’s what all elephant seals do.  The fifty percent that survive their first year, anyway.

PUP:  Whaaaat?  (COW #2 leaves) 

PUP:  NOOOOOO Mommy!

SUPERWEANER PUP:  Ha!  You must wish you were me.

PUP:  Who are you anyway?  You’re as fat as you are long.

SUPERWEANER PUP:  I’m a superweaner!  That means after I’d been weaned I found another cow; one whose pup had died; and nursed from her.  I’m practically a sphere of blubbery cuteness!  Being a superweaner is awesome because you have less of a chance of starving to death before you learn to catch fish.

PUP:  That’s a good idea.  Maybe I should try it…

 

                                                            The end

 
Last Modified on February 18, 2016
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