Patagonian Southern Elephant Seal

January 6th, 2010 Posted in fauna

Written by Shanie

When we traveled to Puerto Madryn for my birthday, we were fortunate enough to see tons of different animals.

But one of my favorites was the elephant seal (Mirounga leonina).


We were given secret information about a beach unknown to tourists and outside the park that allowed you to get up close and personal with these amazing mammals. Our visit was such a special day for me. One that will never be forgotten.

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These creatures of impressive adaptability were almost brought to extinction around the turn of the twentieth century, as were their brothers the Northern Elephant Seal. Protection has helped numbers increase. The larger version of the two species, they are known to frequent many areas in the southern hemisphere, including the islands of Macquarie and South Georgia, as well as the coastline of New Zealand. The fourth largest colonies on the planet are known to converge in Peninsula Valdés.

baby seal

What is incredible about the elephant seal is the way in which they became one with their surroundings. Living on land for only 20% of their lives, they are often diving to depths of  1500 meters (almost 5,000 feet). In addition to such extraordinary swimming skills, they are able to stay under water for over 120 minutes. Evolution provided them with an abundance of blood to help with their astonishing underwater ability. This extra blood is accessorized with extra red blood cells, increasing oxygen intake, as well. The extra life source is kept in large sinuses located in their abdomen and their muscles which act as storage tanks.


With a life expectancy around 20 years, they begin reproduction around five for the ladies and eight for the gentleman (9 – 12 being the fornication high points). Mating season is an exciting affair in which the giant males (they average in at 16 feet in length and 6,000 pounds in weight) fight for alpha position with bloody battles and concert-loud roars that come through their elephant-like nose (thus their name). The brawls usually end in 1 in ten males becoming the Alpha.

big daddy

The blubbery mass resembling an elephant’s nozzle is called a proboscis. Other than operating as the hombre’s horn, its other vital function is in mating season; purpose: personal rubber hose. These guys are so busy fighting for some action, the males rarely leave the beach while at war for sex, instead they find the moisture necessary to survive through the air they breathe. The breath is reabsorbed into cavities helping them stay cool.

elephant seal fin

A great time to see these massive mammals is when they are molting their fine hair. The blubber is their actual heat source, not their fur. When molting season occurs the layer has to regrow through the fatty blood vessels in the blubber. This combination of shedding and growth process of the new skin causes them to be more susceptible to chill, provoking them to come up on land into a “haul-out”. This protected area offers a place of relaxation. It is also the only time in the year when the men can just get along, and everyone hangs out as a happy family. The best time for this is May to June for the women and August for the guys.

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