Northern Elephant Seals

Northern elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California
Northern elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California

The Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris), or sea elephant, ranges from the Pacific coastal waters of Canada to the tip of Baja, Mexico. It is the largest of the fin-footed mammals and with males typically weighing up to 6000 lbs it exceeds the walrus in size. Though they were hunted to the brink of extinction toward the end of the nineteenth century, their numbers have steadily increased in recent years due to protection from both the US and Mexican governments.

Elephant seals feed on fish and squid or other cephalopods and spend upwards of 80 percent of their lives in the ocean. They can hold their breath for nearly two hours and dive as deep as 2,000 feet in search of food. During the three month breeding season, bulls fight to establish territories along beaches and to acquire harems of up to 40 cows.

These juveniles are part of a large rookery at one of several pocket beaches near San Simeon on the Central California coast. As part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary this colony has grown exponentially since the early 1990s, and a well-designed series of boardwalks, interpretive signs and docents offer a unique wildlife experience for anyone visiting the area.

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