Science //

Freaks of Nature: Elephant Seals

Richard Withers gets very excited about animals, particularly seals

Elephant seal bull
Elephant seal bull

There are various ways to see Elephant Seals in action. If wealthy and extremely passionate about the idea, you could travel to Northern America to see these predominantly inactive creatures (they reside on beaches, where they are commonly discovered lying down, soaking up the sun in their colonies at the Channel and Farallon Island regions in the US). Alternatively there is also the far more convenient and often more logical means of viewing these mammoth seals by watching a healthy range of Youtube clips. A vast majority of these clips will depict the ferocious stoushes between alpha-male Elephant Seals. This is primarily due to the fact that outside of fighting, they do very little other than resting and mating furiously.

However, the lives of these lovable hunks are undoubtedly best documented in Sir David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet, in the episode ‘Spring’. This way you can glimpse the incredible scenes on Blu-ray format (assuming that you have a full HD television with Blu-ray player attached) and gorge on the incredible footage Attenborough throws your way.

But what’s so fascinating about these big balls of blubber?

A full-grown male Northern Elephant seal weighs over three tonnes, and some Elephant Seals have been recorded as weighing as much as 3700 kg! This means that when these great beasts slug it out, their fights are some of the most brutal you will ever likely see, and can often prove fatal. Fights can last as long as fifteen minutes and involve both seals repeatedly plunging their thirty sharpened teeth into the other.

Males will compete in order to establish a harem of fifty to a hundred females, often with the sole objective of ensuring that he, and he alone, will mate with every one of them. Males have been known to impregnate over fifty of the significantly smaller females in a single season.

The fights do seem to be worth it, however, with the male seal’s ear-curdling mating roar known to be one of the loudest exultations of joy in the animal kingdom.