Southern Elephant Seals on postage stamps
Southern Elephant Seals are the biggest seal and aquatic carnivore species. The species was nearly extinct after being heavily exploited due to hunting for their oil in the 19th and early 20th century by sealers.
Population has recovered; today a stable population of approximately 700,000 individuals lives in their Antarctic and sub Antarctic habitat. The Southern Elephant Seal is and one of the most interesting animal species in the world holding different "world records". It is the mammalian species with the biggest sex difference in weight and deepest diving depth. Males reach 5-6 m in length and 3,000-4,000 kg in weight and are many times heavier than females with a body weight of 300-900 kg and length of 2-3 m. Aside from the massive body size the tremendous. Inflatable large trunk-like proboscis of old males is responsible for the species' name.
Elephant seals feed on cephalopods such as squid and cuttlefish and large fishes which are caught in deep water on dives. Most dives are about 30 minutes and between 300 and 800 m deep, but can reach depths up to 1700 m and can last up to two hours. Between dives Elephant Seals spend only a few minutes at the surface. Their body is optimally adapted to an aquatic life. It offers optimal conditions for remarkable diving feats, with the strong front flippers and flipper tail, outsized eyes, the thick layer of insulating blubber, a huge oxygen reservoir; and ability to reduce oxygen consumption by lowering heart rate to as little as a single beat per minute. These swift and powerful swimmers, however, are cumbersome on land, having difficulty lifting their huge bodies off the ground with the proportionately short front flippers. Southern elephant seals travel long distances to their foraging areas which can be thousands kilometers away from their breeding areas. Males forage mainly on the Antarctic continental shelf while females forage in more pelagic areas. Orcas are the only predators of Elephant Seals.
For the breeding season (September-November), the Southern Elephant Seals turn up every year at their birthplace on sub Antarctic islands such as South Georgia with the largest population, and Falkland Islands, as well as on the southern South American coasts to form breeding colonies. Bulls arrive several weeks before the females. Old bulls claim territories through loud roaring noises generated by their proboscis, body positions, and occasionally combat fighting. Fighting amongst mature bulls includes repeated strikes with their trunks and teeth and can become quite bloody so that older males bear the scars of many such encounters mainly in their chest "shield". The victorious bulls become beachmaster, with control and mating rights to a "harem" of up to 50 females. In larger harems, the dominant beach-master will allow assistant beachmasters to reside within the harem.
Females give birth to pups 0-10 days after arriving on shore and nurse them for 23 days. New born pups have a mean length of 1.20m and weigh approximately 40kg. Their mother's high-fat milk guarantees an incredibly quick three to fourfold increase of bodyweight during the three weeks suckling period. Afterwards, pups are weaned suddenly by the female. Before leaving the colony and disappearing to the sea, females are ready for mates for a short time. This is performed mainly with the beachmaster, but other bulls are also waiting for their chance. During the nursing period, mothers always stay with their pups. They do not have an opportunity to feed and loose one third of their body weight. The bulls have to fast even longer. The basis for this incredible effort is the thick layer of blubber that sustains them during the breeding season.
The pups are left to fend for themselves. After changing their black coat into a silver-gray one, the weaned pup starts to swim in the coastal waters and ponds. It has to teach itself how to feed and undertakes foraging excursions of increasing duration.
After the breeding season, the Elephant seals migrate southwards, to live for many months on the open sea until the next breeding season. They only come ashore for a short time during the late Antarctic summer to celebrate "beach parties" of up to hundreds of seals lying around sunbathing on sandy beaches or rocky islands shores and molting their hair and skin.
Elephant Seals in the Falklands
The most important breeding colony of this species in the Falkland Islands is on Sea Lion Island. The sandy beaches of the most southern island of the Falkland archipelago gives home to a small, but constant population of approximately 500 breeding females during the breeding season from September to November peaking in late October. Small groups of Elephant Seals can be observed at Sedge Island, Saunders Island, Emily Island, Sand Bar Island, and Carcass Island.
Images on the stamps
The images illustrate a weaner flirting with the photographer (27p), a bull during his attempt to mate a female illustrating the massive sex difference in body weight (55p), young bulls play fighting (65p) and a Tussock bird searching for food in the nose of a young male Elephant Seal (110p).
Reinhard Mischke, is a semi-professional nature photographer living in Germany. In his main profession, he works as a University Professor and veterinarian at the Small Animal Clinic of Hanover Veterinary School. Consequently, the main topics of his photography are birds and other animals. Reinhard Mischke finds his photographic subjects mainly in Northern Germany, but also on various places around the world, especially in marine environments. He regularly visits the Falkland Islands. Reinhard's photographs are regularly published in different print media such as magazines, books and post cards and are presented on multi vision shows.
Elephant Seal Research Group
The Elephant Seal Research Group (ESRG) is a small independent association of Italian researchers dedicated to the study of elephant seals. One of the currently running long term research projects which started in 1995 is a study of Southern Elephant Seals of Sea Lion Island, the only breeding colony of this species in the Falkland Islands.
Postage stamps in detail
Issue: Falkland Islands, 15 July 2008
Stamp designer: Dr Reinhard Mischke
Printing process: Stochastic Lithography by BDT International
Perforation: 14 per 2cms
Stamp size 28.45 x 42.58mm
More information Postage Stamps
Postage Stamps 2008
Postage stamps of Falkland Islands
Anniversary RAF on Falkland Islands 2008