elephant seal

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elephant seal

or

sea elephant,

a true sealseal,
carnivorous aquatic mammal with front and hind feet modified as flippers, or fin-feet. The name seal is sometimes applied broadly to any of the fin-footed mammals, or pinnipeds, including the walrus, the eared seals (sea lion and fur seal), and the true seals, also called
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 of the genus Mirounga. It is the largest of the fin-footed mammals, or pinnipeds, exceeding the walrus in size. There is a northern species, Mirounga angustirostris, along the Pacific coast, and a larger southern species, M. leonina, that breeds on sub-Antarctic islands. Males commonly reach a length of 18 ft (5.5 m) and a weight of 5,000 lb (2,270 kg); the female may measure 10 ft (3 m). A hollow, flabby snout about 15–18 in. (38–45 cm) long on the male gives these seals their name. During the 3-month breeding season the largest bulls stake out territories and try to attract and hold as many females as possible. When a bull is sexually excited or angry it snorts air from the proboscis into the throat, producing sounds heard miles away. Bulls do not eat during breeding, but females without pups feed on squid, fish, crabs, and other organisms that compose their main diet. These earless seals are graceful in water, diving to 2,275 ft (700 m) for food. Seal hunters, who extracted oil from blubber, pushed the northern species to the edge of extinction in the 19th cent. In 1911 the Mexican government extended protection to the single remaining M. angustirostris colony on Guadalupe Island off Baja California; the United States eventually followed suit. By the early 1990s an estimated 60,000 animals were found on island rookeries off Baja and central California. Elephant seals are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, suborder Pinnipedia, family Phocidae.

Bibliography

See W. N. Bonner, Seals and Man (1982); B. LeBeouf, Elephant Seals (1985); F. Trillmich, ed., Pinnipeds and El Niño (1991).

Elephant Seal

 

any one seal of the genus Mirounga of the family Phocidae. They are the largest pinnipeds. The males are 3.7–5.5 m long, with the largest individuals weighing more than 3 tons; the females are up to 3 m long and weigh up to 1 ton. Adult males have a distinctive snout that inflates when the animal is excited and somewhat resembles a short trunk (hence the name). Elephant seals have a coat of brown hair. There are two species: the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris), which lives near the Pacific coast of North America from California to southern Alaska, and the southern elephant seal (M. leonina), which is found in the pelagic zone of the subantarctic. Elephant seals are herd animals. They breed (forming a harem with a male leader) and molt primarily on island beaches, such as those of the South Georgia and Falkland islands. They feed on fish and, less frequently, on cephalopod mollusks. Because elephant seals are protected species, their numbers are increasing.

REFERENCES

Zhizn’ zhivotnykh, vol. 6. Moscow, 1971.
King, J. Seals of the World. London, 1964.

K. K. CHAPSKII

References in periodicals archive ?
The northern elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris, is one of the most sexually dimorphic mammals, with adult males being 1.
This has been demonstrated for the movements of gray seals, Halichoerus grypus; southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina; walrus, Odobenus rosmarus; and narwhals, Monodon monoceros (McConnell et al.
Ultrasonic measurement of blubber thickness of the southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina (Linn.
Size, dominance, and copulatory success in male northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris.
Diving behavior of female northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris.
Parental investment in southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonine.
Continuous, deep diving in female northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris.
Together, the two elephant seal species in the genus Mirounga exhibit the following: 1) for ecologists, a "natural experiment" of recovery and decline, with several populations of the southern species declining for at least 20 years and the northern species increasing for most of this century, 2) for behaviorists, extreme sexual dimorphism and polygyny relative to other large vertebrate species, and 3) for physiologists, the maximum diving and fasting capabilities among pinnipeds.