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February 23, 2006

Northern Elephant Seals: Molting

Molting Seals
Año Nuevo State Reserve

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.

Molting Seal
Año Nuevo State Reserve

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.

Molting Seal
Año Nuevo State Reserve

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
Año Nuevo State Reserve

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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i think that this site is really good for if you are needing to learn about seals!

Awesome. I have a website that tells people where they can go to watch seals in the SF Bay area. This was very helpful and interesting information! Thank you!

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