Tours and Activities:
Elephant Seals at Punta DelgadaMónica PonsKarina Jozami (1) y Jorge González (2)
El Arenal Beach is an exclusive aquatic mammal reservoir where these animals spend three months a year to develop part of their vital cycle.
Reaching El Arenal Beach at Punta Delgada is an invitation to watching an elephant seal colony with features of its own. For instance, it contains the largest concentration of females with their offspring on the Atlantic coastline in the spring. During our visit, the vast loneliness of the road was only interrupted by the speedy pace of a grey fox, but it is also possible to see guanacos, Patagonian hares and choiques.
Along with the lighthouse, a countryside hotel and the elephant seal reserve co-exist on a typical local plain. As visits are only possible in the company of a park ranger and authorized guides, two of them escorted us down a steep slope towards the beach while they told us all the details about the lifestyle and behavior of the seals.
It is a bit impressive to duck around them so that they do not feel intimidated, but the presence of the guides gave us courage and self-assurance.
We were amazed at the size of the males, with their several tons and large snout. We were told that only one of them is the sultan and sheik of the harem of females. There are other leading males but with less hierarchy. They all inseminate the females.
The younger males find it quite difficult to start mating and this results in permanent fights that take place on the beach. When the male elephant seals reach the shore in August, one of their first tasks is to mark their territory and wait for the females to arrive, which generally happens one month later. In the meantime, the battles occur.
Lords of the Land
'When the females arrive, they are already pregnant from the previous year and they give birth to one pup per year in an optimum site. They breast feed them for 30 days, while they get them ready to become independent. Then, they are inseminated by the male again' the guide told us. 'They are constantly in a gestation process so that the species does not become extinct.'
We resolved to sit and watch them in silence while the constant 'snoring' interrupted our peace. In November, all of them abandon the beach and head for the Malvinas, Georgias, Orcadas and Sandwiches del Sur Islands to spend the rest of the year.
The males project a feeling of power, of secret organization and they are always willing to jump over an opponent. Even though we did not witness any violent fight, they are constantly showing off their hierarchy.
Some petrels were hovering around above us and them, as if they took for granted we were strangers on this land. We retraced our steps on the way back after having seen the only continental elephant seal colony and their awe-inspiring history of life within an environment teeming with sea air.