February 23, 2006
Northern Elephant Seals: Molting
Okay, so this is perhaps the worst time to take pictures of the elephant seal. It is summer and boy does the beach stink - it's covered with pieces of dead skin, and really scruffy looking, grumpy seals. But you can't blame them, they're going through what is called a "catastrophic" molt.
Once a year, the Northern Elephant Seals return to the beaches upon which they were born. For about a month, they stay on land, eating and drinking nothing. Instead, they spend that itchy, hot month shedding their entire protective fur coat and growing a silky new one for the coming year. During this molt, they do not go in the water, for they rely on their waterproof fur coat for protection from the cold Pacific waters.
The reason that the molt is called "catastrophic" is because it is the complete loss and regrowth of the seal's fur, all at once. Other mammals, like humans for example, are continually losing hair and skin and regrowing it, instead of losing it all at once.
Molting Seal Pup
The different groups of Northern elephant seals molt at different times. The new pups molt in March before heading out into the ocean for the first time. From April to May, the female elephant seals and the juveniles come back to molt, followed by the sub-adult males in early summer. Then, in July and August, the beaches are covered with the long-nosed adult bulls.
Posted by sorsha at February 23, 2006 1:41 PM
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