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Southern Elephant Seal

The Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina) is one of two species of elephant seal. It is not only the most massive pinniped but the largest member of the order Carnivora as well. The seal gets its name from its great size and the large proboscis of the adult males, which is used in making extraordinarily loud roaring noises, especially during the mating season.


There is a great sexual dimorphism in size, with the males being much larger than the females. While the females average about 680 kg and 3 m (10 feet) long, the bulls grow to around 3636 kg and 6.36 m (21 feet) long. The record bull, shot in Possession Bay, South Georgia in 1913, was 5,000 kg and 6.9 m (22.5 feet) long.

Range and habitat

Southern Elephant Seals are found throughout the Sub-Antarctic regions. They used to live in large numbers around Tasmania, but were wiped out by the sealing industry and are now only seen there a few times a year. They are occasionally seen off the coasts of New Zealand and South Africa. They breed on the Sub-Antarctic islands, with the population at South Georgia being the largest (it includes about half of the entire species population). Other important populations are at Macquarie Island , Peninsula Valdes, Heard Island and the Kerguelen Islands.


Southern elephant seals breed from August to November. The bulls arrive many weeks before the females do and claim territories through loud roars, body positions, and combat fighting. Like its cousin, the Northern elephant seal, this species is highly polygynous and the most successful (alpha) males can have a harem of up to 60 females. Beta males are also present and have smaller harems. The least successful males have no harems but will go as far as to try to seduce an alpha or beta male's females when the male is not looking. An elephant seal must stay in his territory to defend it, which could mean months without eating and having to live on its blubber storage.

Pups are born 0-10 days after the females come to shore and are nursed up to 23 days. After that the pups left out to fend for themselves while the female mate with the harem males to produce a new pup. The weaned pup may leave the beach and teach itself how to feed. Overcrowded beaches are dangerous for pups as they are often crushed to death.

Food, foraging and predation

[[Image:Seal and king penguins.jpg|150px|left|thumb| King Penguins and Southern Elephant Seal at South Georgia Island.]]

Elephant seals feed in deep water, and can dive to great depths - up to 1700 metres. Dives lasting up to two hours have been recorded. They feed on cephalopods such as squid and cuttlefish, and on large fish including small, deep-water sharks. When at sea, they spend a high proportion of their time underwater, and they only need to spend a few minutes on the surface between dives. The elephant seal's only significant predator is the orca.


After their near extinction due to hunting in the 19th century, total population is about 600,000, but all the populations seem to be declining at present. The reasons for this are unclear, but it may simply be that once protection from hunting was established, the species recovered so fast that it overshot its equilibrium numbers. Most of their most important breeding sites are now protected by international treaty, as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, or by national legislation.

One of the most famous southern elephant seals is Minazo, who lived from when he was a half-year old until his death in 2005 in Japan's Enoshima Aquarium. Minazo became popular for his signature bucket holding, tongue-lolling pose. In 2006, Minazo was memorialized by the Japanese noise musician Masami Akita, AKA Merzbow, in a two volume album with artwork by Jenny Akita showing Minazo holding his beloved bucket. In 2007, Minazo became the subject of an image macro similar to lolcat called lolrus. In his liner notes, Masami Akita suggests that Minazo's frequent and demanding performances left him exhausted, contributing ultimately to his death. Akita's intention in celebrating Minazo was to highlight the plight of captive animals used for performance before public audiences.

See also

Northern Elephant Seal


Animal Diversity Web - Mirounga leonina

External links

ARKive - images and movies of the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina)

Southern Elephant Seal

Elephant Seal Research Group

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Southern Elephant Seal

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