One of the experiences we have had when setting up the substrate experiment is a little hard to convey in writing. The aroma of a pod of hauled out elephant seals is something you really have to experience yourself. At the moment there are several groups lying on the rocks around Kristie Cove, and being downwind is not very pleasant. We also have an area just outside the BioLab building which is very popular with elephant seals- there are none here at the moment but last year we had a bunch that hauled out for weeks which made for some weird noises at night.
These animals are the largest seals on earth- the males can weigh up to 4 tons. They spend most of their time in the water foraging for food (mainly squid) and dive hundreds of meters into the ocean to do this. But we only see the elephant seals when they have hauled out onto the rocks. On land they are not very graceful - every move seems a great effort to them. They pause for a while then heave themselves up and plonk themselves down with wobbling bodies just a little bit further along- so moving on land is pretty slow compared to how graceful they are underwater.
Some of the adults are molting their hair and skin at the moment, which you can see covering the rocks when they return to sea. You can also see (and smell) some very dark brown colored tide pools where elephant seals have been hauled out (yep, elephant seals have bodily functions just like the rest of us, and no, they don’t move away after they have done the deed, they pretty much just lay in it).
You can sit and watch the seals lying there and they will pretty much just sleep, then one will rearrange its position (more wobbling flesh) and this will disturb its neighbors who will also start wriggling and wobbling around. Then things will settle down and they sleep for a while, maybe there will be some snoring to listen to. So it is a bit of a shock when one suddenly lifts it’s head up and starts to yawn. The elephant seal yawn is not a quiet, restful sound - it is a loud, guttural sound, which is accompanied by a fairly strong aroma. So when we are in the boat and hear this noise we know it is just about time to get under the water!