sábado, junio 15

Two-Ton Rescuer Who Saved Young Puppy

Male elephant seals are not known for their paternal instincts. When sprawling on the beach during the breeding season, these far-from-gentle giants focus on mating with females and fighting with other males. As they move their two tons of weight around the colony to achieve these goals, «they will crush the young» without hesitation, even crushing their own offspring, said Daniel Costa, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Which made the events of January 27, 2022 even more significant. Sarah Allen and Matthew Lau, wildlife biologists with the National Park Service, were studying the northern elephant seal population at Point Reyes National Seashore, about 30 miles northwest of San Francisco. As they passed a colony lying on the beach, they noticed a young pup resting with an adult female near the water.

“It was a hot day,” Dr. Allen recalled, so she thought the two were cooling off on the wet sand.

When Dr. Allen and Mr. Lau passed the settlement again on their way back, the situation had changed. The rising tide had swept the cub out to sea and, too young to swim, he was struggling to stay afloat. The female was still on the beach, responding to the calf’s plaintive cries with her own calls, which attracted the attention of a nearby male.

«We thought: Oh, he’s going to try to mate with her,» Dr. Allen said.

Instead, he sniffed the female and then “ran into the waves,” she added. When he reached the puppy, he used his body to gently push it toward the beach, likely saving its life.

Dr. Allen has been observing elephant seals for more than 40 years and had never seen anything like this before. “I contacted several colleagues to ask if they had seen anything similar, but no one had,” she said. Dr. Costa agrees: “It’s completely out of the ordinary. »

Dr. Allen and his colleagues published their observation in January in the journal Marine Mammal Science. Dr Costa said the paper could encourage other seal scientists to be on the lookout for similar behaviors.

Northern elephant seals are fast during the breeding season (roughly December to March), so males usually try to save their energy for mating and fending off rivals. By rushing to the beach like David Hasselhoff in “Baywatch,” this seal rescuer was not only abandoning his harem of females, but also expending valuable energy.

This led Dr. Allen to interpret what she saw as a potential act of altruism, when an organism sacrifices some of its own well-being to help another.

“He was so determined and directional in going there, and so quickly,” she said. “And then when he came back, he was so nice.”

Although the male clearly intended to push the calf back to shore, it is impossible to fully understand his intentions. And since this is the first time anyone has seen something like this in elephant seals, Dr. Costa suspects this is a rare, one-off behavior.

Altruism in the animal kingdom is more common between relatives, and as northern elephant seals were hunted to extinction in the 19th century and then rebounded, many of them are more closely related than they are would not be otherwise. Dr. Allen suspects that the male seal and the pup he saved are related in some way, but without genetic data, she can’t be sure.

Elephant seals lead extreme lives. When they are not on the beach fasting, fighting and breeding, they spend months at sea continuing to dive for food, sometimes to a depth of a kilometer and a half. “Elephant seals are complicated,” Dr. Allen said. “We only see a small fraction of their lives.” She thinks it’s time for us to start looking at male elephant seals in a new light.

Dr Costa thought elephant seals generally lacked the intelligence of their sea lion cousins. But the spectacular rescue on Point Reyes beach showed him there may be more to it than it doesn’t seem so.

“Maybe there’s more going on up there than I thought,” he said with a laugh.