This winter I returned to San Simeon to shoot the Sea Elephants during their rut. My earlier sea elephant photo essay was taken during malting season, when it's only the females and their young spending time onshore. Winter though is the only time of year when the adult males and females share the same territory, with the males returning from Alaska and the females from warmer waters around Hawaii. During this short period the males fight for the chance to mate, with the top males each guarding their harems.
The battles normally occur after a another male makes an attempt to mate with a female that a top male has claimed as his own. Often simply rising up and bellowing into the air will be enough of a threat to scare off the challenger, particularly when the hierarchy has already been established in previous fights. Otherwise what follows can be brutal, thousand of pounds of bubbler slamming against each other, trying to rip into each-other's flesh with their powerful jaws, forcing the weaker of the two being forced back into the water.
A challenger Sea Elephant being forced towards the water
With their thick blubber insulating them for icy deep waters, California's mild winters can feel sweltering for the Sea Elephants. They'll try to cover their bodies with cool sand in an attempt to shield themselves from the sun.