August 8, 2014
- as seen by -Julie Larsen
I hear the southern elephant seals before I see them. They are concealed among the dunes by their crinkled coats. Only their snorts and sneezes give them away.
I count scores of seals at the edge of the ocean where they lay like silvery surf. These are the weaners, one-month-olds that have switched to this moniker. They are still young, but no longer pups. They have just been weaned from their mother’s rich milk.
The weaners are perpetually napping. In the near future, they will learn to swim and fish, and become full-fledged elephant seals. One day, they will return to this place—their place—to start the next generation.
But elephant seals have competition for their beachfront property.
The Patagonian shelf is one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Although the area is cold and remote, its abundant resources attract oil exploration and commercial fisheries that set up camp and push to expand.
With guidance and on-the-ground research by the WCS Argentina program, the local government has created protected areas in Patagonia to safeguard southern elephant seals and their neighboring dolphins, penguins, and other seabirds. The protection promotes sustainable activities and environmental education.