Online Zoo: Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal Facts For Kids & Adults

This page contains southern elephant seal facts for kids and adults. Find out all about the biggest seal in the world!

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Southern Elephant Seal Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Mirounga leonina
  • Type of Animal: Pinniped (the animal group that contains seals, sea lions and walruses).
  • Animal Family: Phocidae (the earless seal family)
  • Where Found: Subantarctic & Antarctic regions
  • Length: Males: up to 6m (20 ft.); females: up to 3m (10 ft.)
  • Weight: Males: 3700 kg (8,160 lb.); females: 600 kg (1323 lb.)
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Other interesting southern elephant seal facts: The southern elephant seal is not only the largest pinniped, but also the largest member of the Carnivora order. A male southern elephant seal weighs up to SEVEN times as much as a polar bear!

Southern Elephant Seal Video

Watch the video below to see southern elephant seals in the wild (warning: some scenes are quite violent, and may not be suitable for young children):

Meet The Southern Elephant Seal: Introduction

There’s no mistaking the southern elephant seal; its size alone distinguishes it from other Antarctic seals. The male is particularly large, and has a large, fleshy nose. The combination of large size and prominent nose gives the elephant seal its name.

The southern elephant seal’s nose can be inflated to impress females! It also helps the seal to produce loud roars and growls, which are used to intimidate rival males.

The southern elephant seal is the most ‘sexually dimorphic’ of all mammals. (Sexual dimorphism is the difference between males and females). The male southern elephant seal can be an incredible 10 times the weight of the female!

The southern elephant seal ranges in color from gray to brown. Its skin often bears scars; the results of the animal’s savage mating battles. Under the tough skin is a layer of blubber.

The southern elephant seal’s front flippers are used to haul the animal about on land, while the back flippers provide propulsion in the water.

Although the southern elephant seal is big and cumbersome on land, in the water it is a master swimmer. We’ll find out more about its incredible diving abilities further down the page …

Elephant Seal Nose

Can you see how the elephant seal got its name?

Where Do Southern Elephant Seals Live?

The southern elephant seal lives in subantarctic and Antarctic regions. There are three main populations. The largest is found in the South Atlantic, with breeding colonies on South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and the Valdes Peninsula, Argentina.

You can see where South Georgia is on the map below. Zoom out to see where it is in relation to Antarctica!

Other groups of southern elephant seals are found in the southern Indian Ocean, and in the subantarctic Pacific Ocean.

Southern Elephant Seal Behavior

The southern elephant seal spends most of its life at sea, making lone foraging trips during which it travels distances of several thousand kilometers. Between feeding trips, the southern elephant seal regularly comes onto land (known as ‘hauling out’).

While on land, the southern elephant seal molts (changes its coat and skin) and socializes. Molting can take between 3 and 5 weeks.

The southern elephant seal’s blubber not only provides insulation from the cold: on land the seal doesn’t eat, and relies on its blubber for energy. No other seal can stay out of the water for as long as the southern elephant seal.

Southern Elephant Seal Diet

The southern elephant seal’s diet consists of squid, fish (including cod icefish and lantern fish), krill, crustaceans and sea squirts. It hunts by sight and by using its vibration-sensitive whiskers.

Southern elephant seal Diving Abilities

The southern elephant seal is a master swimmer and diver, and spends up to 80% of its life underwater. Its torpedo-shaped body helps it cut through the water.

No other seal dives as deep, or for as long, as the southern elephant seal. It can dive to depths of over 2,000 m (6562 ft.), and stay underwater for 2 hours.

The average dive, however, takes the seal to depths of between 300 and 800 meters (984 and 2625 ft.) and lasts for around 30 minutes.

Southern Elephant Seal Family Life

The southern elephant seal breeding season takes place between August and November (winter and early spring in the subantarctic). The male is first to return to the breeding grounds. Females arrive later, and form groups called ‘harems’.

Males fight for control of the harems. This is a noisy, impressive process, as the huge males – each weighing over 3 tons – square up to each other, growling threats and making themselves look tall.

If neither backs down, a fight will ensue, in which each male will attack the other by biting and goring.

The biggest, toughest male on the beach is known as the ‘beachmaster’. In small colonies, only he will breed with the females. In larger colonies, other males may get a look in.

The female southern elephant seal gives birth to a single pup. It is born with black fur, and feeds on its mother’s milk for 3 to 4 weeks. At this time, the pup will molt, losing its fur, and the female will return to the sea, leaving the pup on the ice.

Southern Elephant Seal Predators

Orca Killer Whale

Orcas occasionally prey on southern elephant seals.

The adult southern elephant seal is a big and powerful animal, and has little to fear from most other sea animals. Its only enemies are the orca and the great white shark.

Southern elephant seal pups are more vulnerable to predation, and have to steer clear of leopard seals and New Zealand sea lions.

Is The Southern Elephant Seal Endangered?

The southern elephant seal is not endangered, and its conservation status is ‘Least Concern’. Its population is thought to be stable.

Southern Elephant Seal Facts For Kids: Questions

Q1. The southern elephant seal is a member of which family?

  • a) Phocidae (the earless seal family)
  • b) Otariidae (the eared seal family)
  • c) Odobenidae (the walrus family)

Q2. Where does the southern elephant seal live?

  • a) Arctic and subarctic regions
  • b) Tropical regions
  • c) Antarctic and subantarctic regions

Q3. The southern elephant seal is a pinniped. What is a pinniped?

  • a) Any member of the group of animals that includes seals, sea lions and walruses
  • b) Any polar mammal that eats fish
  • c) Any swimming mammal.

Answers

Q1) a, Q2) c, Q3) a

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