Each year, starting in mid-March, elephant seals undergo a catastrophic molt hauling themselves out onto many of the same beaches that just a few short weeks prior were used for birthing and mating.
( Click any photo to enlarge )
At the same time, the year's weaners that are still working on their foraging, swimming, and diving skills before embarking on their BIG trek north are still calling their natal beach home, thus adding to the mix. This makes the beaches highly busy as elephant seals of all sizes and ages compete to find personal space. The only exception being the older males who won't come ashore for their turn at molting until July and August of each year.
Even though elephant seals seem to be creatures of habit, there is some overlapping of their times ashore. This being said, the catastrophic molting ' season ' basically starts in mid-March with the return of juvenile males and females plus some more mature females.
April through May is when most adult females come ahore for their molt, accompanied by some sub-adult males.
The majority of the sub-adult males, however, come ashore during May and June.
Then, finally, the adult males come ashore starting in the later part of June and continuing through August, with a few even staying into September.
The catastrophic molt means that each elephant seal will stay ashore for about twenty-five to twenty-eight days in order to shed all of its fur. The fur sheds in patches with the epidermal skin attached revealing a new dark gray fur underneath ready for immediate use. Over time, this gray coat will gradually change to a shade of brown. The big males are usually darker while the adult females often sport a tan color.
Elephant seals, like other sea-going animals have darker backs and lighter bellies to help camouflage them from predators and make them less visible to their prey.
The process of catastrophic molting causes increased blood flow the surface of the skin to help quickly supply nutrients to the new fur. During these 25-odd days ashore, the elephant seals seem to be somewhat vulnerable to warmer air temperatures and will often move down to the water's edge or even enter the water to cool off.
Sand-flipping does not seem to be as popular an option as during the birthing season. Maybe the sand would prove to be irritating to the loosening molting skin and attached fur.
According to scientists, the molting elephant seal fasts during the entire time he/she is ashore until the old skin and fur have been completely replaced.
Scabby molt is a skin disease that attacks elephant seals between the ages of eight months and two years old.
In contrast to the catastrophic molt, bare patches of pink skin can often be observed where the fur has fallen off in small patches. New fur, though, usually grows in quite quickly covering up the bare pink skin.
Elephant seals experiencing this patchy molt seem to prefer lying on the beach to heal rather than going in the water.
Events on Land >