Southern Elephant Seal Fact Sheet

Common Name:

Southern elephant seal

Scientific Name:

Mirounga leonina 

Wild Status:

Least Concern


Sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters


Southern hemisphere


Open ocean

Life Span:

approximately 14 years


Males can be over 20 feet and weigh up to 8,800 pounds Females are much smaller and can weigh up to 2000 pounds

Cool Facts:

  • Southern elephant seals are the biggest seals in the world.
  • They belong to a group called pinnipeds, along with sea lions and walruses.
  • The male Southern elephant seal is enormous compared to the female. This is known as sexual dimorphism.
  • They can dive a mile or more below the surface and enjoy feasting on squid while they are down there.
  • The male Southern elephant seal is easily identifiable because he has an huge inflatable nose called a proboscis.
  • When the male inflates his proboscis he can amplify his grunting sounds, snorts and bellows.
  • If the Southern elephant seal spends too much time on land, their kidneys can produce concentrated urine with more waste and less water to prevent dehydration.


Elephant Seals live in the rocky island shores of Antartica and are found around the world such as in South Georgia, to the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina, to the Indian Ocean. The Southern Elephant Seal is the largest seal in the world, with males weighing up to 8000 pounds and females weighing in at about 2000 pounds. The males are much bigger and longer and can measure 20 feet long while females are twice as small. The males also have a large hanging prominent nose called a proboscis which looks like an elephant trunk, hence the name Elephant Seal. The males can make loud bellowing noises which will increase around mating season in order to get the attention of the females. The Southern Elephant Seals hind limb ends form a fin and a tail. They use this fin to help them swim. The Southern Elephant Seal can stay out of water for a long period of time and can stay dry for many weeks. The males will first form a colony and fight for control of the harems when the females arrive. The dominant bulls can have up to several dozen females. The male must stay in his territory in order to defend it. Baby Southern Elephant Seals are called pups and will stay with their mothers until they weight about 260 to 290 pounds. The babies will stay in nurseries until they lose their birth coats. The Southern Elephant Seal can dive up to 20 minutes at a time looking for squid, mollusks, krill, lanternfish, cephalopods, and fish to eat. They are also among the deepest air-breathing diving non-cetaceans, and have been recorded as deep down as 6,998 feet. Their natural predators are orcas, great white sharks, and smaller Southern Elephant Seals can fall prey to leopard seals.      

Taxonomic Breakdown:

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chrodata Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Clade: Pinnipedia Family: Phocidae Genus: Mirounga Species: Mirounga leonina

Conservation & Helping:

In the 19th century the Southern Elephant Seals were near extinction due to hunting and possible declining food sources. It is estimated that there are about 650,000 left in the world which is slightly up in figures. Now their breeding grounds are protected by UNESCO World Heritage Sites or by  national legislation.

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