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ELEPHANT SEAL } Mirounga angustirostris (northern elephant seal) and Mirounga leonine (southern elephant seal)

RANGE: Alaska, Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia

STATUS: Protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act; classified as Secure by NatureServe

THREATS: Formerly threatened by hunting; potential modern threats include collisions with boats, competition and interaction with fisheries, marine pollution, global warming, increased predation, disease, and human disturbance.

Elephant seals aren’t called that for nothing. In fact, they’re largest seals on Earth, with males sometimes weighing more than 8,000 pounds and reaching more than 20 feet in length. Really, though, their name comes from the males’ trunk-like, inflatable snouts, which they use to produce vociferous roaring noises, especially during mating season — and which also help them conserve moisture when breathing. Both females and males spend up to 80 percent of their lives in the ocean, swimming thousands of miles each year and diving to depths of up to 2000 meters below the ocean’s surface. Elephant seals can hold their breath for more than 80 minutes, longer than any other non-cetacean mammal. These remarkable pinnipeds were once hunted almost to the point of no return for their oil-rich blubber, but they’ve thankfully made an amazing comeback under the protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Photo © Monica Bond