Elephant seals are large ocean seals and there are two species. The northern and southern elephant seal, both were hunted to the brink of extinction by the end of the 19th century, but numbers have since recovered. The southern elephant seal is found in Peninsula Valdés in Argentina, which is the fourth-largest elephant seal colony in the world. Peninsula Valdés was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.
Elephant seals take their name from the large proboscis of the adult male (bull) which resembles an elephant’s trunk. The bull’s proboscis is used in producing extraordinarily loud roaring noises, especially during the mating season which takes place once a year.
The adult bulls typically reach a length of 16 ft and a weight of 3 tonnes and they are much larger than the females (cows). The average size of a harem for a dominant male ranges between ten and fifteen females although some are more greedy! Adult females are pregnant for eleven months of the year and give birth around mid-September. Pups weigh 40kg at birth, but then quickly balloon on the rich milk of their mothers to weigh 200kg after only three weeks.
Elephant seals have a very large volume of blood, allowing them to hold a large amount of oxygen for use when diving. They can hold their breath for up to 2 hours and this is longer than any other noncetacean mammal. They dive up to 1550m beneath the ocean’s surface. They spend approximately 80% of their lives in the ocean. They feed on skate, rays, squid, octopuses, eels, small sharks and large fish. They are excellent swimmers and also capable of rapid movement on land. They are shielded from extreme cold more so by their blubber than by fur. Their hair and outer layers of skin moult in large quantities.
Elephant seals are on the Least Concern list, although they are still threatened by entanglement in marine debris, fishery equipment and boat collisions.