Around this time of year at Año Nuveo State Reserve, most of the adult northern elephant seals have gone back to sea, and all that's left are the weaners (the term applied to the young seals that have been weaned and left behind to fend for themselves). The shots in this post are from when the seals are much younger, only a few days after they are born in January. Our annual winter trip was full of babies this time, and it was great to be on the ground-level with them.
When these cute little pups are born they're jet black, weigh around 75 pounds, and live on a diet of their mother's very rich milk (over half of it is fat). In the 28 days or so that they nurse they'll gain around 10 pounds a day and weigh upwards of 350 pounds when they are weaned. This is an incredible growth spurt, and it is quite taxing on the mother who fasts during her entire stay.
And while all of that growing might seem a bit tiring...
...its not all about lounging on the beach, feasting, and looking cute. After those relatively easy first four weeks their mothers will disappear back into the ocean, and the pups are very suddenly weaned. At this point they are completely on their own, and need to figure out how to swim, and even how to eat.
By the end of April the self-taught pups will follow their instinct and head out to sea. Amazingly, they'll all individually head north to feed along the coast and won't touch land again until they return to this same beach in September.