As of yesterday, this is officially my first field season of working in the snow. While it might not be fun for our toes and fingers, the seals do seem to be loving it.
In addition to the colder weather, seal numbers are thinning even more. After over a month ashore many males appear to be throwing in the towel. In the past week we’ve seen a number of males leave, whether through fights or of their own choosing, as the number of available females has plummeted to single digits. That being said, there is still one seal who, against all odds, remains firmly in his spot: D52, aka Ron.
Ron was sighted for the first time last year, and stuck around for a decent proportion of the season earning him tenured status. This year, I spotted him on my first day back on October 28th suggesting that as of today, he has been on the colony for at least 40 days. However the story of Ron this year is a bit of a roller-coaster. After floating around for the first week, Ron seemed to settle into a relatively good spot amongst a group of females in the second week. Then, he ran into a bit of trouble which resulted in him losing a tremendous 8 fights in a single day. I was certain that was the last we’d see of him as most males after being so soundly routed will either not be seen for the rest of the season, or at best, will be seen wandering in the outskirts of the site from time to time. It is rare to see one return to reclaim such a prime location.
Just to prove that assumption wrong, two days later we arrived to find Ron right back where he had been.
While we were surprised, it seemed reasonable that he could manage to reclaim his spot. Everything seemed to go normally after that….until about a week later when Ron lost another big fight and was run out of the study site again. This time we saw him wandering in the outskirts over the following days. Surely that was his last shot…
Until three days later when we arrived to find him again back in his spot, thus earning him the second nickname: Iron Man.
This anecdote, though admittedly atypical, begs a number of questions. Since we know Ron lost a staggering number of fights, one might wonder if winning individual fights is as important as assumed. Is it more important to follow the old addage: “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”? If we look at other species, it has been suggested of Northern Fur Seals that in regards to success in fights and gaining females, being big or dominant isn’t as important as having ‘an unyielding attitude’. Ron clearly appears to be ‘unyeilding’, but is his story simply a fluke? Finally, since we never actually saw him reclaim his territory we do not know if he bested any males in the process or simply sneaked in. So, how important are winner-loser relationships between males and neighbors? We can examine this by looking into the neighbors Ron had when he lost and when he came back to see if there were turnovers before he returned.
For now, we will keep an eye on Ron and hopefully tackle some of these questions with the data we’ve gathered when we get back from the field.