PenguinSpirit

Elephant Seal - Largest Seal

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Size

Length: 6 m (up to 20 ft) for average adult male. Female: 3 m (up to 10 ft) average.

Weight: 4,000 – 5,000 kg (4 - 5.5 tones) for average adult male.  Females:1,000 kg (1 ton).

Description

  • Dark grayish/silvery-brown.
  • “True” seal, no external ear.
  • Cannot run or raise themselves on front flippers, move on land in caterpillar fashion.
  • Male, bull, has large prominent proboscis.  The proboscis is inflatable especially during the mating season and is full-grown in the bulls 8th year.
  • Male neck is exceptionally thick and often scarred from fighting.
  • Female, cow, round face.
  • Large dark eyes.
  • Thick layer of blubber for protection from cold.
  • Pup is born with a black coat.

Food

  • Feed mainly on squid, and approximately 25% fish caught on dives up to several thousand feet that can last up to 2 hours.
  • They gorge themselves before hauling ashore to sustain them during the long breeding and moulting period during which they fast.

Rookeries

  • Elephant Seals colonize beaches on Sub-Antarctic islands south of the Convergence/Polar Front.

Breading

  • Adult males haul ashore and establish territories on the beach.
  • Males produce a great roar helped by the resonating chamber of the proboscis while females bark and howl.
  • Returning females or cows are herded together by the dominant males, beachmasters, in harems of approximately 28 to 35 cows.
  • The beachmasters defend their territory and harems from other immature and non-breeding males. These battles are very bloody involving repeated blows, banging their chests together and biting each other on their necks and faces. This continues with bloody open mouths and one final bite until one male leaves the harem territory usually returning to the sea.
  • Females produce one pup in late September/October.  During the 4 weeks of feeding the pup will gain 9 kg (20 lb) a day while the cow may lose as much as 135 kg (300 lb) in the process.
  • Males return to the sea to feed after mating leaving the cows and pups on the beach.
  • The pups are left on the beach after weaning where they find their way to the water and learn to swim and catch fish on their own.
  • After feeding at sea the adults return to share in late summer for 40 days of moult.
  • Most bulls die (90%) before reaching maturity and only a few strong bulls breed more than 1 season.

Predators

  • Killer whales

Interesting Facts

  • Elephant Seals often bend their bodies into a “U” balancing on their chests in shows of strength, this also enables them to rock and see more of the beach.
  • Elephant Seals have blubber of approximately 15 cm (6 in).  When the whaling and sealing ships came to Antarctica to collect whale oil they also killed Elephant Seals for their oil and Fur Seals for their coats.

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