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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Northern Elephant Seal Mirounga angustirostris

Male elephant seals are the largest of all pinnipeds, and the colossal males dwarf the females.

There are two species, one in each hemisphere. They are very similar in appearance and have similar life histories. The northern elephant seal is gray or brown, with no obvious markings.

The male has a huge, muscular neck, powerful jaws, and an inflatable proboscis resembling a shortened trunk. Both sexes have a layer of insulating blubber and a short, stiff coat, without any soft underfur. They are superb divers: the northern species has been tracked to depths of over 1 mile (1.6 km). They eat squid and deep-water fish, although it is still not clear exactly how they find their prey.

Fighting males

Elephant seals have a winner-takes-all breeding system, in which rival males battle for the right to mate. During these contests, the two rivals face each other and then rear up, roaring noisily with their trunks inflated.

They then lunge at each other with their teeth, often inflicting deep, scarring cuts. Winning males may mate with dozens of females during the course of the breeding season, while consistent losers do not mate at all.

Northern Elephant Sealzoom image
  • Order Carnivora
  • Length 10–16 ft (3–5 m)
  • Weight 2,000–6,000 lb (900–2,700 kg)
  • Habitat Islands in deep water off rocky coasts
  • Distribution Pacific coast of North America, from San Francisco to Baja California
Northern Elephant Seal habitat mapzoom image