We tend to think that the “super-giants” in the animal world have gone extinct, but there is a little-known wonder of nature that reminds us there is still room for the behemoths!
Perhaps you’ve heard of the largest member of the seal family: the elephant seal. The biggest males can grow to 20 feet long and weigh over 8,000 pounds (3,600 Kilos). They are well deserving of the moniker “beach master”, when they fight to control a harem of 20 to 100 females.
These animals are fascinating and almost a complete mystery to the average person, and they have a lot to teach us about what’s possible with conservation and time.
Let’s get up to speed on this awe inspiring creature with the BBC:
The Northern Elephant Seal species has a tremendous success story for us to celebrate. In the past 100 years, their population has come back from the brink of extinction.
Here’s what writer Mark Mancini said about the resiliency of this species in a piece he wrote for the website MentalFloss:
Slaughtered en masse for their oil-producing blubber, the northern elephant seal was at one time close to extinction. By 1892, many assumed that this poor species had quietly disappeared forever.
However, a small breeding colony managed to endure. It was estimated that, in 1910, some 20 to 100 northern elephant seals were still alive. All of these survivors dwelled on or around Guadalupe Island off Mexico’s Baja California coast. Things finally started to turn around for the species in 1922, when the island became a biological reserve, and the seals received government protection. Since then, the global population has ballooned up to 160,000—all of whom are descended from those Guadalupe Island holdouts. 2
Mother Nature’s Beach Master
So what’s up with that crazy nose?
Males battle each other for mating dominance by vocalizing, using the nose as an amplifier. Challengers will usually back down if the beach master’s roaring shows sufficient superiority. Most encounters will end in aggressive posturing, but many others turn into violent and bloody battles.
Here’s another great piece that gives you a sense of scale for these tests of will:
Amazing piece there by the BBC.
The rest of the Elephant Seal’s life story is just as remarkable.
Females give birth to a single pup that gorges on its mother’s rich milk – which is 50% fat – and can grow from 75 pounds (34 kilos) to 300 pounds (136 kilos) in just its first month. Then the mothers leave the babies to fend for themselves on the beach until they are ready to find their way in the sea; their true home.
Elephant seals are deep divers and amazing swimmers, traveling thousands of miles in search of squid and fish that they catch a mile below the surface. In fact, their travels and diving range is now making important science possible! Scientists are gluing tiny bundles of scientific equipment to elephant seals and learning more about the southern oceans than seemed possible.
Here are some quotes from scientists working on these projects: “‘It would take years and millions and millions of dollars for a research ship to do what the seals are doing.’ Another expert adds, ‘The seals have made it possible for us to observe large areas of the ocean under the sea ice for the first time.'” 4
Great work Mother Nature and innovative scientists! It really is an amazing world!
Stay open, curious and optimistic!
~ Dr. Lynda
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- “Don’t Mess With A HUGE Elephant Seal – Super Giant Animals – BBC.” YouTube. BBC Earth, 26 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 Apr. 2017. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpT1u2lFkXs>. ↩
- Mancini, Mark. “14 Huge Facts About Elephant Seals.” Mental Floss. Mental Floss, 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 03 Apr. 2017. <http://mentalfloss.com/article/73596/14-huge-facts-about-elephant-seals>. ↩
- “Up Close to Elephant Seals Fighting – Super Giant Animals – BBC.” YouTube. BBC Earth, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 Apr. 2017. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv9xwEKCH_g>. ↩
- Hofmann, Kate. “Elephant Seals.” National Wildlife Federation. Ranger Rick, July 2009. Web. 03 Apr. 2017. <https://www.nwf.org/Kids/Ranger-Rick/Animals/Mammals/Elephant-Seals.aspx>. ↩