The northern elephant seal is the second largest seal in the world. Beaten in size only by the massive southern elephant seal. Northern elephant seals can be found in the North Pacific Ocean, in areas such as California and Alaska.
These seals spend the majority of their time in the open ocean. They only come to shore to mate, give birth, and molt. Male elephant seals can be easily recognized by their trunk-like nose.
They grow much larger than females, reaching about 13 ft (4 m) long. Each winter, elephant seals arrive at their breeding beaches. During the breeding season, males will aggressively defend their territories. Northern elephant seal battle with other males for mating dominance. Male can inflate their noses and produce a loud sound to ward off other males.
Dominant males have the opportunity to mate with dozens of females. Females give birth to a single black-furred pup each winter, after an 11 month gestation period. Pups are about 4 ft (1.2 m) long when they are born.
They nurse for only a month. During this time, females do not eat. Males have been known to accidentally crush pups when they are charging other males out of their territory. The surviving pups will remain on the beach for a few months after their mothers have left, in order to perfect their swimming and feeding abilities before going out to sea.
Females live about 20 years while males only live for about 13 years. Elephant seals will migrate long distance in search of food. They can dive up to 5000 ft (1500 m) down and stay underwater for almost two hours. Between April and August, northern elephant seals will return to the shore in order to molt. Molting takes 4 to 5 weeks.
Then, they return to the sea again until winter. In the 1800s, elephant seal was aggressively hunted to the point of near extinction. Hunters primarily sought after their blubber to make the oil used in oil lamps. In fact, they were even declared extinct in 1884until a small population was found several years later on an island off the coast of Mexico.
Today they’ve made a rapid recovery. However, they are still susceptible to being entangled in fishing gear and being struck by ships. Due to their near extinction, the large populations of northern elephant seals that are present today, lack genetic diversity. This makes them more vulnerable to disease and environmental changes.