This entry is part 41 of 47 in the series British Antarctic Survey

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This second instalment from my latest incredible trip to St Andrews will involve fewer superlatives – because I used my quota up in the first instalment!

I have spent a year on this amazing island and over a quarter of my pictures have been taken in the two weeks spent at St Andrews Bay. This is no reflection on how ‘boring’ the rest of the island (it’s not) … but St Andrews Bay is flipping ridiculous!

Elephant seal bull relaxing in the snow

Elephant seal bull relaxing in the snow

Having a scratch

Having a scratch in the snow

Young male on the beach

Young male on the beach

As you’ll have seen from my previous blog, there are hundreds of thousands of breeding King Penguins resident here, but just as awesome are the majestic giants that span the entire shore front.

St Andrews Shore

St Andrews Shore

Where penguins meet steaming elephant seals

Where penguins meet steaming elephant seals

They are loud, they smell worse than the penguins and they very rarely move but when they do, the sheer power and strength on display commands your attention and respect.

Challenging bulls are frequent

Challenging bulls are frequent

Elephant Seal in one of the glacial lakes at St Andrews

Elephant Seal in one of the glacial lakes at St Andrews

Beachmasters will spend months on end within harems of hundreds of females, fighting off challenges and rivals in order for the chance to mate with the females once they have weaned their pups. The challengers are numerous and relentless, leaving the beachmasters little time to sleep and relax between bouts and duels.

New bull onto the beach checking out the competition

A new bull on the beach checks out the competition

There are considerable size differences amongst males and it is in the interest of both beachmaster and challenger not to waste energy/get injured in one-sided competitions. So, in order to prevent this from happening, males use their proboscis to amplify their roars, allowing competitors to calculate the size of their rivals and if a fight is worthwhile.

Steam from a bulls breathe as he roars out his battle cry

Steam from a bull’s breath as he roars out his battle cry

This means big fights only happen when there is an even match and, as a result, duels can last for tens of minutes as both rivals rear back and take turns to slam their bodies and teeth into each other.

Trying to get higher than your rival

Trying to get higher than your rival

Two evenly matched competitors

Two evenly matched competitors

Locked in battle

Locked in battle

The noise as each blow was made was insane

The noise as each blow was made was deafening

Sinking teeth into flesh

Sinking teeth into flesh

Blood is almost a guarantee and injuries are often haunting and sometimes even life-threatening.

Bull after a fight

Bull after a fight

Afterwards, the competitors are understandably exhausted and plaster themselves with cold stones or mud from the beach in order to help them cool off.

Mud mud glorious mud....

Mud, mud glorious mud ….

Cooling off

Cooling off

Our visit came during the peak pupping period and as a result, the beach was covered in new-borns suckling the fatty milk of their mothers. Born at approximately 40kg, these will reach 180kg by the time they wean just three weeks later.

Young pup begging for milk

Young pup begging for milk

Pup in the snow

Young pup in the snow

Weaned pups quickly move up the beach away from the busy harems

Weaned pups quickly move up the beach away from the busy harems

Saying goodbye was definitely very hard but I am very excited to say I’ll be back to St Andrews in January, this time on board the National Geographic Expedition ship!!!

Series Navigation<< St Andrews – Mark 2Giant Birds! >>
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2 thoughts on “Giants of St Andrews

  1. What a series of great pics. You are a lucky guy to have seen all of this first hand.

  2. Hi Jamie,

    This is a great website and I like your blog on the BAS website. I am heading down to St Andrews bay this year to film bull elephant seals fighting for a BBC wildlife series and I’d love to talk to you about what you think the best dates would be? I’m interested to know if KEP has any data on the breeding activity of the elephant seals on the beach there?

    All the best,

    Fredi

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