Northern Elephant Seal

"Mike" Michael L. Baird, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The northern elephant seal is the largest of the “true” seals in the Northern Hemisphere. Adult males use their large, inflatable noses during the winter breeding season to resonate sound when vocally threatening each other. The largest colonies of northern elephant seals are found off southern California in the Channel Islands. They have one of the longest migrations of any mammal; some have been recorded traveling over 13,000 miles roundtrip.

Northern elephant seals were once thought to be extinct due to commercial sealing in the 1800s. A small population survived in Mexico and the population began to steadily increase in the early 1900s. Today, robust populations of northern elephant seals in the U.S. and Mexico are derived from those few hundred individuals that survived in Mexico.

  • Length; 4 metres, 
  • Weight; 2500kg,
  • Life span; 19 years,
  • Gestation; 9.5 months 

They are found most frequently seen in B.C. waters during spring and fall migration between mating and moulting season. Primarily juveniles are seen hauled out for moulting. Mating and pupping have been observed at Race Rocks. 

Northern elephant seals’ diet primarily consists of squid and fishes, but they also consume rays and sharks.

They will spend about 9 months of the year in the ocean. Most of this time is underwater, diving to depths of about 1,000 to 2,500 feet for 20 to 30 minute intervals with only short breaks at the surface. They are rarely seen out at sea for this reason. While on land, they prefer sandy beaches.

Northern elephant seals fast during the mating season and can lose up to 36 percent of their body weight during this time. When molting occurs, they shed their short, dense fur along with large patches of old skin. Molting takes 4 to 5 weeks to complete.

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