Taken by photographer Sam McMillan in San Simeon, California, this photo of a wonderfully charming northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) got us wondering about things. Like, just how big is that guy and ... no offense, but why the big nose? Finding those answers led to more questions; here's what we discovered.
1. After the southern elephant seal, which are the largest seals in the world, the northern elephant seal comes in second place – although they are number one in size for seals in the northern hemisphere.
2. Just how big? Adult males are 14 to 16 feet in length and 4,000 to 5,000 pounds in weight – or about the same weight as a mid-size car!
3. The females are relatively petite, reaching up to 12 feet in length and weighing in at a svelte 900 to 1,800 pounds – at birth, babies are 3 to 4 feet in length and weigh around 70 pounds.
4. Pups nurse for about a month, during which time the moms don't eat – both female and baby live off the energy stored in mom's blubber.
5. Elephant seals live in the open sea for up to 10 months a year, coming to the beach twice annually – once in the winter for mating and pupping, and again in the late spring/early summer to molt and grow new fur.
6. Elephant seals' blubber led them to the same fate as whales – they were recklessly hunted from the 18th century to the early 20th century, primarily for oil.
7. One surviving colony of a meager 50 individuals survived on Guadalupe Island, some 170 miles off the Pacific coast. That was it – they very nearly became extinct.
8. According to elephantseal.org, the development of kerosene and protection by Mexico in the early 20th century resulted in a drop-off of hunting. SInce then, they have rebounded to a population of around 225,000.
9. And as for the nose? It's all for the ladies. The males' trunk-like proboscis is there to intimidate other males through its sheer size alone – it also serves to amplify challenge calls in the competition for females.
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