Once thought to be extinct, northern elephant seals have made a tremendous comeback. And that’s great news because they are amazing animals. Named for the long noses of the males, northern elephant seals are huge, up to 16 feet long and can weigh over 5,000 lbs.
Elephant seals can dive over a mile deep and hold their breath for nearly two hours. That’s deeper and longer than every other mammal except for two types of whale. Their bodies are specially adapted to make such deep dives. Not only do elephant seals have unique blood that can carry a lot of oxygen, they have special sinuses in their abdomens that hold extra blood.
A great place to watch elephant seals is a haul-out, an gathering place where hundreds will haul themselves out of the water onto rocks or beach. There they give birth, feed their pups, molt, and mate.
Also, they fight. Tremendous, roaring, bloody battles between bulls are waged to determine dominance and control over the harem of cows. Snorts and roars from the dominant, or alpha, bull will often scare off the other bulls. But sometimes they have to fight. Bulls will rear back and slam their massive bodies against each other, ripping at each other’s thick skin with their sharp teeth. Though the fights are rarely to the death, they are gruesome nevertheless.
Just getting to adulthood is tough, too. Only one in six pups survive to age four. Sadly, some pups are squashed to death in the mass of seals at the haul-outs. Others starve after being separated from their mother. The lucky ones nurse for four weeks on the richest milk in the mammal world, but then they are on their own. After a couple more months at the haul-out, the pups head to sea, where hungry great white sharks and orcas await.
Northern elephant seals are found along the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to Alaska, and out in the open northern Pacific Ocean.
They live along the Pacific Coast and also in the open ocean; they haul-out on rocky shorelines and beaches.
Elephant seals will eat squid, octopuses, rays, skates, eels, and fish.
Elephant seals are the largest member of the Pinniped (fin-footed) family of mammals.
The southern elephant seal is larger than the northern, weighing up to 8,800 lbs.
Males live to 15 years, females to 23.
Pups weigh 80 lbs. at birth, but add 220 lbs. in just four weeks of nursing.
The deepest recorded dive was 7,835 feet, nearly one and a half miles.
Northern elephant seals swim up to 12,000 miles each year.
Seals will flip sand onto their bodies to keep cool and prevent sunburn.
170,000 northern elephants seals exist today, up from less than 100 in the late 19th century. Fortunately, Mexico and later the United States, protected these animals from hunters wanting their blubber to make oil for lamps.