Southern elephant seal
Distribution and Habitat
The southern elephant seal is circumpolar in the southern hemisphere. They are most generally found north of the seasonally shifting pack ice, particularly on subantarctic islands. Sandy and cobble beaches are preferred, but elephant seals will haul out on ice, snow or rocky terraces. They also venture inland into tussock grass and other vegetation, and frequently lie in mud wallows.
Distinguishing features of the adult male is a thick, scarred neck shield, and an erectile proboscis which hangs down in front of the mouth when relaxed. Births occur on shore, and occasionally on shore ice, in September and October. Pups are born with a long, woolly black lanugo that is shed at around 3 weeks of age, revealing a silver-grey coat. Newborn pups are 1.3 m and 40-50 kg, and are nursed by their mothers for about 23 days. Adult males reach 5.8 m and 3000-5000 kg, making them the largest of all pinnipeds. Adult females are up to 3 m in length and weight 400-800 kg. Although males reach sexual maturity at about 4 years, few successfully breed before age 10. Females reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years, depending on their location. Male seals are thought to live less than 20 years; females about 14 years. The diet mostly consists of cephalopods, with some fishes.
The world population of the Southern elephant seal was estimated to be between 700,000 and 800,000 individuals in 1991. While some breeding populations in the Antarctic portions of the Indian and Pacific oceans have been declining in recent years, the Atlantic population appeared to be stable or increasing.
Threats to the Species
Intensive commercial sealing throughout the 19th and 20th century has greatly reduced the populations of Southern elephant seals and eliminated them from some rookeries. Colonies on subantarctic islands in the Indian Ocean area are generally declining for unknown reasons.
Reijnders, P. et al. 1993. Seals, Fur Seals, Sea Lions, and Walrus. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN Seal Specialist Group. Gland, Switzerland. 87pp.
Jefferson, T.A., S. Leatherwood and M.A. Webber. 1993. Marine Mammals of the World. United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome.