Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals - Stamps of SOUTH GEORGIA & South Sandwich Island

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Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals – Stamps of SOUTH GEORGIA & South Sandwich Island

The Elephant Seal, Mirounga leonins, is the largest of the pinnepeds. Its vernacular name is derived from its size (see the 26p stamp) and the large erectile proboscis of the adult males (on the 3Ip stamp). The largest bulls may reach 6m long and weigh 4.5 tonnes of which 40% is blubber: the cows do not reach a third of this. The southern species breeds principally on South Georgia, lies Kerguelen, and Macquarie Island. It may be found, usually non-breeding, on many other peri-Antarctic islands (including the South Sandwich Islands), on the Antarctic continent and in various other southern regions. Once it supported an industry which extracted oil from its blubber. This started at the end of the 1700’s but they have not been taken commercially for at least 25 years.

Some aspects of the life history are illustrated by the stamps. The 62p value shows a cow and pup just after birth when the young one is covered with a coat of fine black hair which it retains for the first few weeks of life. They live ashore during this period in harems (shown in part on the 34p stamp). These can range from a few to over a hundred cows, their pups and a beachmaster bull.

During this period the pups gain in weight from about 44kg at birth to 180kg after 23 days on a diet of milk exceedingly rich in fat. The cows (greatly diminished in weight) then go to sea to feed and, with the bachelor bulls, emerge later in the year to moult. During their moult they lie on the beaches or wallow near them. Those beached may protect themselves from the heat of the sun on the rare warm windless days by casting sand on their bodies, as shown by the 29p specimen; a very plump seal. The bulls grow much larger than the cows and come on shore early at the beginning of the breeding season to assemble their harems. Competition amongst them is severe and bloody fights take place throughout this period. A confrontation between two bulls is shown on the 12p stamp. Although much sound and fury go into these the damage done is, in most cases, comparatively slight and many go on to fight again.

All seals in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are protected by a Conservation Ordinance. Approximately 300,000 Elephant Seals occur in the region and their population is generally stable. Their principal diet is squid and fish. Although the stamps illustrate the seals ashore almost three quarters of their lives are spent at sea, breeding and moulting are the only activities which they must conduct on land. These make the isolated Antarctic islands very important for them.

TECHNICAL DETAILS

Designer: Mr D Miller

Photographs: 29p courtesy of Mr D Sanders

: Other values Mr R Headland (SPRI)

Process: Lithography

Stamp Size: 28.45×42.58mm

Pane: 50 (2×25)

Perforation: 14 per 2cm

Watermark: CA Spiral

Values: 12p, 26p, 29p, 31p, 34p and 62p

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