Animal Encounters, Australia, Destination, Photography

Southern Elephant Seals: Giant Slugs of the Sea? Or Just a Lot of Blubber?

Elephant Seals

Everywhere I looked elephant seals were piled up like heaps of exhausted Sumo wrestlers.  Sometimes it was easy to overlook them–mistaking them for sand hills.  The penguins must have thought so too, as they paraded amongst them willy-nilly.

Penguins and Southern Elephant Seals mostly ignore each other on land

The seals are not a threat to the penguins on land, it seems.  But as clumsy as they appear on land, in the water these giant slugs-of-the-sea swim like super-sonic submarines.  At the moment they’re moulting, which makes them very itchy and a bit grumpy.  Mostly they just sleep, scratch, snore, fart, and occasionally flip a bit of sand over themselves.  This goes on from about mid-November to April, which I suppose explains their need for a hefty supply of blubber, as they don’t go into the water  while they are moulting.

[wpvideo sKLj1RLH]

Southern elephant seals are larger than their northern cousins.  Males commonly weigh up to three tons, and can measure five meters or more in length.  Females are much smaller, being less than two tons and three meters.  The girls can dive for twenty minutes at a time, whereas the guys can go for an hour or more.  But specifications aside, what I find so interesting about the bull elephant seals is their faces.  They all just seem like huge blobs of blubber, until you see the face.  I know, the scientists among you will be rolling your eyes at my anthropomorphic descriptions, but how can you not make something of these expressions?

Do that to me one more time
Oooooh, Mamma!

They seem to have the same ability to look totally hedonistic as cats do.  They can look:


Really pissed off


Downright Snotty!

They were just as silly looking in groups–piles, really.  One of the favorite formations, when they weren’t just stacked up randomly, was lined up, top to tail, in a row.

Nine elephant seals all in a row
What’s with the sandbags? Are we expecting a hurricane?

I haven’t said much about the juveniles and females.  The big bulls are just so…well, male.  But here are a few shots of some young males  play-fighting. . . all a part of their training to become alpha males when they grow up.
They can mate at 4 or 5 years of age, but can’t become alpha males until around 8 years old.

Practicing to be Top Seal

Not as lovey-dovey as it looks!

My, what big  eyes you have…

Now, I have one more ‘face’ I want to share, and I want to know who he reminds you of… Just add your nomination in the comments section.

Who do you think he look like?

It was entirely surreal; walking amongst these strange creatures and being surrounded by busy little  penguins, all at the same time.  Surreal, maybe.  But also very memorable.    I’d go back tomorrow.

Featured writer: Suellen Carey-Clarke

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5 thoughts on “Southern Elephant Seals: Giant Slugs of the Sea? Or Just a Lot of Blubber?

  1. Katt says:

    I think I want to come back as an Elephant Seal 🙂 <

  2. Beth says:

    Love the photos and the narrative. It’s great to be entertained and educated at the same time.

    1. Suellen says:

      Thank you. Am glad you enjoyed it. I had fun re-living it as I assembled the photos.

  3. Malloy says:

    I love your photos and descriptions! They are gorgeous creatures. Where were these photos taken?

    1. Suellen Carey-Clarke says:

      Thank you for your comment. I’m mortified to realise I failed to say where the photos were taken…they were on Macquarie Island in the Sub-Antarctic. i took them while on an expedition cruise on the Orion in January 2011. The article was a follow-on of the article A Parade of Penguins published here on October 5, 2012.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the photos!

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