A notoriously blubbery southern elephant seal "weaner" rests on the shores of South Georgia island, looking out towards the vast Southern Ocean. Despite South Georgia's remote and rugged geography, as much as 54% of the world population of southern elephant seals are born on its shores.
Come November, the beaches are filled with hundreds of "weaners" who get their nickname from the fact that they have just been weaned from their mothers' milk. Though penguins take the top spot for the silliest creatures in South Georgia, the "weaners" with their clogged noses, rude sound effects, and helplessly fat bodies take a close second. Having just been left by their mothers, it is not uncommon to find yourself surrounded by "weaners" looking hopefully up at you hoping that maybe you too can offer them some milk.
With faces like these, it is difficult to imagine that the species was almost hunted to extinction for the oil in their blubber following Captain Cook's account of the island in the 1700s. It was not until 1964 that people enacted a ban on the hunt, allowing elephant seals to slowly recover on the beaches of the Southern isle. Seeing beaches full of healthy elephant seal "weaners" is a hopeful sight that cannot be taken for granted.
The many success stories of conservation in South Georgia and the Falklands are diamonds in the rough of today’s planet in peril. These stores give a glimpse into a wild world that once was, but also a world that can be resurrected from the ashes of our human-impacts. For many species and ecosystems all across the globe, no matter how daunting the task may seem, there is always hope for conservation. With a little nudge from people, nature has the power to bounce back in ways that we cannot even imagine.