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Introduction  > Penguin  > Sea Lion  > Elephant Seal

 


Lying on the beach or rolling over on the sand to stay cool under the rays of the sun, the elephant seal is an attractive beast. Underneath its lumbering, clumsy manner one finds a sensitive animal which is sometimes even timid or afraid (especially when young).

The elephant seal is a marine mammal which, contrary to appearances, spends most of its time in the sea and only lives on land to reproduce and moult. It rarely lives more than 20 years.

The male reaches 6 m in length and weighs 3’500 kg. The female, which is smaller, measures 3-4 m and weighs, about 900 kg. The Falklands population, about 600 adult females is almost completely concentrated on Sealion Island, to the south of the archipelago. The favourite breeding areas are sand or pebble beaches.

The males begin to establish their territory at the beginning of September and stay there more than 3 months. The females arrive towards the end of September and form a harem varying from 2 to 50 individuals under the domination of just one male. During this period the breeding bull becomes very aggressive towards the other males and he defends his harem by fighting violently against too enterprising members of his species. The females only stay on land one month during which time they pup, suckle and mate. Then they leave their pups and return to the sea to feed. Apart from a period of about 25 days when they come back to the end to moult, they spend the rest of their time making continual deep dives to feed and regain the weight and energy lost during suckling. They feed on squids and fish caught during dives lasting more than 2 hours and reaching depths of more than 1’000 metres!

At birth a pup is already 1,20 m and weighs 40 kilos and then it rapidly gains weight. In 3 weeks, during suckling, it can reach a weight of 180 kilos and measure 1,60 m. Reaching maturity takes a long time as it attains puberty at about 5 years but the real maturity is only reached years later. Usually it is incapable of being in charge of a harem before its ninth year or even later.

Most females and dominant bulls leave the breeding site at the end of November, but yearlings and non-breeders arrive to spend their annual moulting on land. The females come back to moult between January and March and the dominant bulls between March and April.

The Falklands population has undergone a rapid decline, from about 6’000 breeding females in 1992 it was only 600 in 1999. The reproduction sites spread around the isles have been abandoned apart from Sealion Island. The explanation is unknown, but the reduction of fish and squid due to commercial fishing is probably a factor.


Text: © M.Chabod / F. Bettex   •   Photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra




 
Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal

Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal

Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal

Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal

Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal

Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal

Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal

Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal


Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal

Falkland Islands picture - Elephant seal
       
       
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