The Elephant Seal: All About this Aquatic Colossus

A harem of elephant seals huddled together on the beach.
A harem of elephant seals huddled together on the beach. Photo credit: Skeeze

A peculiar sight you will see as you drive along the Californian coast is the elephant seal. A sea creature, albeit seemingly mythical creature, the elephant seal is a truly unique animal. Growing up to 20 feet in length and weighing up to 8,500 pounds, the elephant seal is an aquatic mammal you may want to view from afar!

The Elephant Seal’s Strange Visage

Two elephant seals on the beach.
Two elephant seals on the beach. Photo credit: KevCam

The long noses of the male elephant seal gave this species their name, while females lack the distinctive nose and are much smaller. The large nose of the male seals aids their breathing process, as well as creates exceptionally loud roars to ward off would-be competitors during the mating process. Although elephant seals are solitary creatures while at sea, when they come on land to breed and give birth, they live in harems of one male and a group of females. Elephant seals are particularly notable because they are able to dive a mile or more below sea level and can hold their breath for up to two hours.


The Species That Almost Wasn’t

Young elephant seal on a rocky beach in California.
Young elephant seal on a rocky beach in California. Photo credit: tpsdave

Harvested by whalers for their blubber, the elephant seal was thought to be extinct by the 1880s. A small group survived the hunts and developed a small breeding colony off the coast of Mexico. The species was able to repopulate as a result of this protected colony and today the population of about 170,000 is protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Spotting the Elephant Seal

Northern Elephant Seal on the beach with a bird.
Northern elephant seal on the beach with a bird. Photo credit: Skeeze

One of the most likely places to see elephant seals is in Piedra Blancas, a coastal community midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Protected by the point from storms and by a kelp forest from predators, here huge numbers of elephant seals relax on the beach and frolic in the waves.

If this description of elephant seals has intrigued you (or terrified you!) see elephant seals for yourself on a kayak tour in California! While you’re in the golden state, don’t forget to check out the Grove Market in Los Angeles.

Can’t get enough of aquatic animals? Check out our post on helping save endangered turtles in Australia.

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