Wednesday, May 8, 2013


On Saturday evening we stopped by Ambleside beach to see the resident elephant seal that has hauled itself out for it's annual catastrophic moult

She (I'm assuming it's a she since females moult first) is alone, which is unusual.  Either she was separated from her colony due to some mishap or couldn't keep up.  The need to moult may have been becoming urgent so she decided on Ambleside, which is a wildly popular beach. Perhaps she made an unfortunate choice.

Thank goodness Fisheries and Oceans Canada have erected a barrier giving her around 400 m squared to herself.  They've even installed her own personal security guard that makes sure no one tries to cross over it.  When Matt and I visited the barrier was lined with people taking photographs (including us) and kids ooh-ing and ah-ing.  She didn't seem to mind, maybe she is used to lots of noise and activity from her colony, or maybe this is a stressful situation for her.  I guess only time will tell.

On the way home Matt and I talked about what an alarming description that is:  a catastrophic moult.  It's wonderful isn't it?

This lead me down the path of thinking about other whimsical naming devices in biology.  Like why are flocks of birds so lyrically and descriptively named?  A murder of crows.  A murmur of starlings.  The group of ducks we saw while swimming Saturday would be called a raft of ducks.  A charm of finches or hummingbirds.  We all know a gaggle of geese but how about a flamboyance of flamingos?  A parliament, wisdom or study of owls?  OK, I know it's overkill, but I just can't stop!  A scold of jays, a huddle of penguins, a bouquet of pheasants, a chattering of starlings, a chime of wrens and a ballet of swans.

Scientists are supposed to be, well, somewhat dry aren't they?  Who were these natural historians that were moved to poetry?  It really illustrates that the early study of zoology was all about observation.  I picture these magnificent bearded men, wearing little glasses and tweed suits standing around twirling their walking sticks and pronouncing "Yes, yes, a quarrel of sparrows! An exaltation of larks"!

I guess it is impossible to observe nature and the natural world and not be moved by the heartbreaking perfection of it.


Sue and Brian said...

Just a few miles north of Hearst Castle near San Simeon, CA is a beach with hundreds of elephant seals - see our blog from a few years ago.

If you go to a bar you might see a "bunch of drunks".......

Roberta said...

The reason I am so excited to see this one specific elephant seal over here is that it truly means they are moving back north. They were hunted almost clear to extinction and have been slowly re-builidng their populations. To see one in Vancouver is truly great news!