On the California coast, an up-close look at northern elephant seals

On the shore, hundreds of elephant seals had gathered in the sun for a sort of pinniped beach party. In the rookery, jet-black newborn pups wriggled close to their mothers. Elsewhere, harems huddled together while beachmasters (dominant males) patrolled the perimeter. One pregnant elephant seal slid away to be on her own, possibly to give birth. Closer to us, smaller beta bulls lower in the elephant seal hierarchy but still hoping for a shot at breeding lolled on the edges of the harems. On the beach, two alpha males tussled, one using his chest and large, trunklike nose (hence the name elephant seal) to push away a rival, while adding a final rumbling growl to intimidate — or maybe just taunt — the loser.

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