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Northern Elephant Seal Facts

Rohini Mohan
Northern elephant seals are smaller than their southern counterparts. One of the interesting northern elephant seal facts is that the males fast for 3 months after reaching the breeding grounds.
There are two subspecies found within the elephant seal species, these being the Northern and the Southern elephant seals. The northern elephant seal or the Mirounga angustirostris is comparatively smaller than its southern counterpart.
These seals are found only in the eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean, starting from northern Baja of California until the northern parts of the Vancouver Islands. These animals come to breed on the offshore islands of California, Gulf of California, Oregon, and parts of Mexico.
The males of this species often traverse great distances covering the northern flanks of Alaska and British Columbia. The females shift westwards to warmer waters, such as those of Hawaii.
Here is a list of Northern Elephant Seal's breeding grounds according to the geographical location.
  • Channel Islands - California
  • Año Nuevo State Reserve - In San Mateo County (California)
  • Piedras Blancas - Light House (California)
  • Morro Bay State Park - In San Luis Obispo County (California)
  • Farallon Islands - California
  • Isla Guadalupe - Volcanic Island Near (Baja California)
  • Isla Benito del Este - Mexico
  • Isla Cedros - Mexico
  • Shell Island - Oregon

Things To Know About Northern Elephant Seals


  • These types of seals, and specifically the males, have a distinct trunk, which looks very similar to that of a real elephant, only difference being that it is much smaller in comparison.
  • The male northern seals are bigger than the females, and can be as long as 14 feet in length, whereas the females reach lengths of about 9 - 10 feet.
  • The males weigh about 5000 pounds, while the females are less than half the size and weigh about 1400 pounds.
  • The pups are born without any fur or coat, and are completely black in color until they reach their first phase of molting or shedding of the coat.
  • The coat turns silvery gray after the molting has healed and the pups have been weaned from their mother. This coat gradually turns brown with age and maturity.
  • The northern seals have big black eyes, which are believed to help them see clearly through icy waters.
  • They have bodies which resemble slugs and have underdeveloped hind feet that looks more like fish fins. The feet also possess a series of five sub divisions, which may aid the animal in swimming. The lower body of the seals is exceptionally strong and can carry their entire body weight, especially during duels among males for territory or over a female.
  • The animal uses its heavy lower body and palms, in order to propel its self forward while moving on land.
  • Even though it may look humongous and fat, these animals can move quite fast while moving on their lower body, and can move at an average aped of 5 mph! They are exceptionally skilled and fast divers and swimmers.
  • Their hands or flap palms are extremely strong, and perform all the basic swimming functions for the animal.

Feeding Habits

  • The females go hunting for food in the open sea, while the males prefer staying closer to the breeding grounds and instead forage for food in the depths of the water.
  • They enjoy feeding on squids, small sharks, pelagic, rays and Pacific hakes.
  • They can dive at great depths of over 2600 ft, and prefer foraging and feeding from 700 ft onwards. The reason being that the prey are available in plenty in greater depths.
  • An amazing fact about seals is that they do not drink water, and instead derive water from the food that they consume after it is digested.

Reproductive Behavior

  • The males will always return to the same breeding ground, whereas the females may choose other grounds.
  • The females arrive and fast for 5 weeks while mating. The animals stay on the land for 3 months, when the females give birth after 11 months of gestation. The cows fast again when they feed their newborn pup. Only one seal pup is born to the mother during that breeding season. The mother cow feeds the pup for exactly 4 weeks, after which the pup is weaned.
  • These animals make very loud roars when they are interacting with females and their pups, and also while fighting against other males or fending off encroaching female cows.
  • A superior male can have a harem of 30 - 100 female cows. It is the dominant males which may a times are responsible for impregnating most of the females in the crowd of seals.
  • Other male seals are fought off by the superior male, after a violent duel or fight has lapsed.
  • The mother cows abandon the pups on the island, after which these pups stay on with other pups and gradually learn how to swim further into the sea.
These animals were once at the very edge of extinction. The northern elephant seals were hunted down ruthlessly for their rich blubber supply. This blubber was used for extracting fatty oils for cooking, cosmetics, and industrial purposes. Nonetheless, with persistent conservation attempts, the population of these seals has risen substantially.