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Elephant Seal


Elephant seals are impressive members of the Phocidae family, known for their large size and distinctive physical characteristics. The males, known as bulls, can reach lengths of 13-16 feet (4-5 meters) and weigh as much as 5,500 lbs (2,500 kg). Females, referred to as cows, are smaller, generally reaching 6-9.8 feet (2-3 meters) in length and weighing up to 1,320 lbs (600 kg). 

One of their most notable features is the large proboscis, or snout, particularly prominent in males, which is used primarily for making loud vocalizations during mating and territorial disputes.

Elephant seals inhabit areas across the Pacific and Southern Oceans, including coastal regions of California, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and the Antarctic Peninsula. 

They prefer sandy or rocky beaches for breeding purposes but spend the majority of their lives at sea. These seals are exceptional divers, known for reaching depths of over 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) in their quest for food.

As opportunistic feeders, elephant seals have a varied diet that includes squid, octopus, fish, krill, and plankton. 

Their ability to dive deep and hold their breath for up to two hours significantly aids their hunting, allowing them to reach abundant food sources others might not access.

Social by nature, elephant seals are known for their complex vocalizations used in communication, mating rituals, and territorial defense. The breeding season highlights their social structure, as it is characterized by intense and often aggressive battles among males vying for dominance and the right to mate with females.

Elephant seals are categorized into two distinct species: the Northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) and the Southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina). 

While the Northern elephant seal is listed as “least concern” by the IUCN, indicating a stable population, the Southern elephant seal is considered “near threatened.” 

Historical hunting significantly impacted their numbers, and although populations have rebounded, they remain susceptible to threats such as ocean pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, and oil spills.
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Elephant Seal Clickable 2
By Frank Schulenburg - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
image of an elephant seal
Photo by Jason Moyer on Unsplash