Catastrophic Molt of California Elephant Seals

Victoria Kezra

Seal Song Several bulls enter into a contest of roars with their thundering calls.

Every year elephant seals flock to Año Nuevo State Park in California for their annual “catastrophic molt,” and a crowd of nature lovers flock to see the seals peel. The phrase may sound extreme, but these aptly named sea creatures (which can weigh over 8,000 pounds) lounge on the warm beaches and shed their old layers of fur and skin. In order to shed their outer layer, blood is redirected to the surface of their skin, which would ordinarily occupied in the service of keeping them warm in the chilly Pacific. These photos were taken in mid-June, capturing a group elephant seals in their new coats. In between their naps, the seals spend time battling, posturing, and letting loose their vocalizations that some have described as deep gurgling or the sound of a loud drain emptying. From a safe distance, visitors to the park observe and learn from the park’s knowledgeable volunteers. The “safe distance” is emphasized by the volunteers who warn the awed young listeners not to get too close. You don’t want thousands of pounds newly awoken seal barreling down at you.

The Sunbathers Seals are scattered across the sand, dozing under an overcast sky. Photo
Lone Bull An adult male takes a moment to himself in the dunes.

BIO: Victoria Kezra lives in the Bay Area in California. She writes, takes photographs, and enjoys doing crafts out in the sunshine.

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