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Northern Elephant Seal


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The Northern Elephant Seal is a huge seal that lives in the Pacific Ocean (above 30 degrees North latitude). This marine mammal has very thick blubber. In the 1800's, the Northern Elephant Seal was hunted to the brink of extinction for its blubber (which was used for lamp oil). There were only about 100 of these seals remaining around 1890; now, more than 100 years later, the species is still recovering.

Social Behavior: These intelligent and social animals congregate in large groups on land (called colonies) and smaller groups in the water (called rafts). Breeding areas are called rookeries. Males fight roughly for mating dominance, and they often bear many scars from these battles.

Anatomy: The Northern Elephant Seal has no external ears. This pinniped has dark silvery-brown fur; babies (called pups) are black at birth. The whiskers on the snout (called vibrissae) help the seal's sense of touch. The nostrils are closed in the resting state. Males (called bulls) are much bigger than females (called cows), and adult males have a very long proboscis (nose). Bulls weigh up to 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) and are up to about 15 feet (4.5 m) long. Cows weigh up to 1650 pounds (750 kg) and are up to about 12 feet (3.6 m) long. On land, this seal moves by flopping on its belly (like all true seals).

Migration: These seals migrate long distances each year. They swim between warm breeding grounds (on Californian and Mexican beaches, from December to March) and cold feeding grounds (in the northern Pacific Ocean near Alaska, USA).

Diet and Diving: Northern Elephant Seals are carnivores (meat-eaters) who dive to great depths to find food. They eat fish (including eels, skates, and rays), squid, octopi, and red crabs. Seals don't chew their food; they swallow it in large chunks. The elephant seal is an excellent diver that can hold its breath for about 20 minutes. Males can dive to 2600 ft (800 m); females can dive to 2000 ft (600 m).

Predators: Northern Elephant Seals are hunted by killer whales (orcas), some large sharks, and people.

Classification: Class Mammalia (mammals), Order Carnivora, Suborder Pinnipedia, Family Phocidae (earless or true seals), Subfamily Monachinae, Genus Mirounga, Species M. angustirostris.

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