Elephant Seal Love

Jane Stevens at UC Santa Cruz Long Marine Lab -- Valentine's Day isn't just for humans. During this Valentine's Day week, the love hormones of elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve are raging.

The females migrated from the far reaches of the North Pacific Ocean late last year, and began hitting the beaches in late December. Most of them arrived in January. A few days after they arrived, they gave birth to their pups.

They nurse their pups for about 28 days, and then head back to sea to find their first meal in more than a month. As is their genetic imperative, the males want desperately to mate with the females before they leave the beach.

Every day, fewer females remain in the 19 harems at Año Nuevo State Reserve, which was populated by just over 4,000 seals at the peak of the breeding season. As the number of females remaining on the beach decreases, the males become ever more persistent. They line up around the harems and along the beach for their last chance.

Meanwhile, the pups that aren't weaned yet stay close to their moms to drink in the nourishment that will put on the weight at a rate of five to 10 pounds a day!


Thanks to Año Nuevo State Reserve for giving the TOPP scientists access to do their research so that we could put together this video for you. It’s a Valentine’s Day snapshot of the warm, fuzzy side of elephant seal breeding season. Just as in humans, there are some rougher, harsher and violent aspects associated with mating behavior, including all the fights among the males and the lack of bonding between males and pups. We’ll show you that side of elephant seal in an upcoming video.