Elephant Seal

Northern Elephant Seal

Range: Pacific coast of N. America: Vancouver Island to C. Baja California.

Habitat: Breeds on offshore islands.

Size: Male: up to 19 3/4 ft (6 m); Female: up to 9 3/4 ft (3 m); 0.6 - 2.3 tonnes (1,320 - 5,500 lb).

Slightly larger than their southern counterparts, these elephant seals range from the Gulf of Alaska to Baja California. Each year a northern elephant seal will swim about 21,000 km (13,000 miles). They migrate north in summer to feed in waters exposed by melting ice. The sexes follow different routes: males move to the far north, beyond the Aleutians, while females head further west into the northern Pacific. The seals come on to land to breed in winter, and again in August to moult their summer coat. They prefer sandy and rocky shores.

The largest seal in the northern hemisphere, the male elephant seal may weigh a massive 6,000 lb (2,700 kg), much of it accounted for by the thick layer of blubber. Females rarely weigh more than 2,000 lb (900 kg). Because of its size, this species was a major target for commercial sealers, and by the end of the nineteenth century the population was dangerously low. Only one of the breeding islands appeared to be used, and that by only a hundred or so seals. With strict protection, numbers have increased since then, and between 1957 and 1976, the population tripled to over 47,000 - a remarkable recovery.

Northern elephant seals feed on fish and squid and make long, deep dives. Adult males haul out for breeding in late November and fight for dominance in the social hierarchy -high-ranking males mate with most females. With the aid of the greatly enlarged nasal chamber, which creates the elephantine snout, males utter loud, vocal threats against rivals. Females arrive a couple of weeks after males and each gives birth to a single pup, which is suckled for about a month. The bond between mother and young is close, and the female defends the pup from other adults and rarely leaves the breeding colony, existing on her blubber until the pup is weaned. She then mates again and leaves the breeding ground. Weaned pups gather in a group on the beach, where they remain for another month, living on fat reserves built up while suckling.

Southern Elephant Seal

Elephant seals live in the waters around Antarctica and come ashore on the region’s islands. They are seen as far north as South Georgia in the South Atlantic. Elephant seals feed on fish and squid.

Killer whales represent the only major threat to adults.

Southern elephant seals are the largest animals in the pinniped group, which includes seals, sea lions and walruses. The males, which are up to five times the size of the females, have inflatable, trunk-like noses, with which they amplify their bellowing calls. They do not seem to have any natural predators.

Distribution: Islands around Antarctica.

Habitat: Breeding colonies form on rocky shores, beaches and coastlines.

Food: Squid, fish and crabs.

Size: 2.6 - 4.5 m (8.5 - 14.75 ft); 400 - 4,000 kg (880 - 8,880 lb).

Maturity: 5 years.

Breeding: 1 pup born in early summer.

Life span: 25 years.

Status: Common.

Gallery of Elephant Seal