Elephant seal

Species profile

Name: elephant seals are large earless seals. There are two distinct species – the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris), and the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina). Both species were hunted to the brink of extinction by the end of the 19th century, but numbers have since recovered.

Appearance: elephant seals take their name from the large proboscises on adult males which resemble an elephant’s trunk. They are used to produce loud roaring noises during the mating season and they also act as a sort of rebreather to reabsorb moisture that is lost when they exhale. This is important during the mating season as they do not leave the beach to feed and so must conserve body moisture.

Size: elephant seals are huge in comparison with other seals. Male southern elephant seals typically reach a length of 5.0 metres and weigh 3 tonnes while the northern species reach around 4.3 metres and weigh around 2.5 tonnes. Females are much smaller than the males and typically measure around 3.0 metres long.

Diet: their favourite foods are skates, rays, squid, octopuses, eels, small sharks, and large fish.

Did you know: elephant seals can hold their breath for more than 100 minutes – longer than any other mammal except for whales and dolphins. They are also one of the deepest diving marine mammals and can reach depths of more than 1,500 metres. To achieve these feats, elephant seals have large volumes of blood which allow them to store lots of oxygen which they can use when diving. They are also able to slow down their heartbeat and divert blood from the external areas of their bodies to important core organs.

Location: the northern elephant seal ranges over the Pacific coast of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, while the southern elephant seal is found in the Southern Hemisphere on islands such as South Georgia and Macquarie Island, and on the coasts of New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina.

Best places to see elephant seals

According to reports submitted to WildSide, the best places to see elephant seals are as follows:

Place Chance to see User rating No. reports
Valdes Peninsula
Argentina
100%
very high
4.5
very good
3
reports