Although this is a day late, I hope that eventually someone will read this.
My project is working at Año Nuevo State Park with researchers from the Dan Costa Lab at UCSC. My main project is to collect data on the personalities of elephant seals and correlate that data with their evolutionary success. Basically, I’m trying to figure out if it’s better for an elephant seal to be aggressive or passive. My first week, however, was an introduction to the goings-on at Año. I went over the hill three times, and did three completely different things.
My first day was participating in the very first day of Weaner Weighing. Let me back up a bit. During the breeding season, elephant seals do not eat. Yes, for several months they sit on a beach, roll around, fight, give birth, and flip sand onto their backs. The females give birth to massive (80kg) pups who grow 4 kilograms a day. They are called pups up until the point that their mothers leave the beach to go back to sea and feed, at which point they are classified as weanlings (because they have been weaned), or, more colloquially, weaners. We weigh, tag, and mark all the weaners on the beach so we have a solid timeline of their lives at Año. That was fun, but it took 3 hours to process 9 weaners. There’re almost a thousand weaners. Sooo…
My second day was resights, basically walking the beach and recording where all the females were located on the beach, and whether or not they had pups. It was fun, but loud and somewhat smelly. Also I almost got squished but that was fun (basically someone yells “RUN!” and you just book it).
My third day was just me asking my mentor questions (because I definitely had a lot).
Over the next few weeks, I will continue to perform various tasks for the research facility, but also start field work with my advisor to collect data for my project. It’s honestly a lot of fun, and even though I have to wake up at 4:00 some days, it’s worth it to see baby elephant seals lean back and open their mouths at you like they’re adults bellowing at you, except for the fact that they can’t make any noise. Sleeping weaners pictured below.