What Do Elephant Seals Eat?

A young elephant seal on a beach.
A young elephant seal on a beach.

Do you know those big animals that appear stranded on a beach, thousands of bodies lying on top of each other? Sometimes they make loud screeches and fight with each other. Well, they are elephant seals, and they are quite spectacular. Those screeches were actually used in Lord Of The Rings as orc screeches.

And if you thought that they nibble on plants or other veggies, you would be very mistaken.

They are carnivores, and they are incredible hunters.

Elephant Seal Diet

These impressive mammals hunt in the ocean, and they can spend up to two hours underwater without resurfacing. They search for their food with their whiskers, which vibrate and with their eyesight. Their favorite snacks are squid, fish, rays, skates, eels, crustaceans such as shrimps, prawns, crabs, and krill. The female elephant seals and the male elephant seals have different hunting routines.

Elephant Seal Hunting Habits

To find food, these mammals migrate and often spend months at sea, diving at great depths. The females hunt in an open ocean while the male elephant seals search for food on the ocean floor. Adult males usually dive deeper than the females, often up to 7800 feet. The male elephant seal is more consistent with his hunting routine. The female often changes route when chasing prey.

An elephant seal.
A southern elephant seal.

When the winter comes, they return to their breeding colonies to mate and to give birth to their yearly pup, which is nursed for a month, during which time the female does not eat. The elephant seal milk has over 50% of fat as opposed to 4% in human milk. The elephant seals spend the majority of their lives in the ocean, and about 20% on land. However, never try to provoke them on land, they can easily outrun you.  

Why Are They Called Elephant Seals?

As the largest seals in the world, there are two species of elephant seals; the northern ones around Mexico and Canada, and the southern elephant seals occupying the coasts of South Africa, New Zealand, and Argentina. These two species have very different lifespans. The northern elephant seal lives up to nine years, and the southern elephant seal lives between twenty to twenty-two years.  

The adult male, “the elephant of the sea,” has a large flexible snout that looks like an elephant’s trunk. They are much larger than females, and roar during the mating season by using their trunk.

A Few Facts About Elephant Seals

In 2000, in Gisborne, New Zealand, there was an elephant seal that attacked anything that was too close or on his area, like cars, boat trailers, trees, and trash bins.

They were close to extinction because they were hunted for their oil. However, there was one breeding colony that remained, and thanks to new marine conservation legislation that protected the seals, their numbers increased, and they were no longer endangered. Although hunters themselves, they have predators of their own, like killer whales, sharks, and humans. They can dive to great depths because of their blubber, and thanks to their enormous abdominal sinuses which hold oxygenated blood.



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