The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) is the biggest pinniped (seal or sea lion) and hairy carnivore in the world and one of the most magnificent creatures you can see during your trip to the Patagonia.
Male adults are huge, at least six times bigger than polar bears and almost twice as big as the next largest seal. Males can grow to almost 20 feet (6 m) in length and weigh more than 8000 pounds (3700 kg). Females are much, much smaller than males, who are larger due to their territorial nature and propensity to gather multiple females into harems with whom they can only mate.
Being open ocean predators, southern elephant seals spend a lot of time at sea. They only visit the shore to molt their fur and spawn. The remainder of the year is spent feeding at sea, where they relax by circling at the surface and hunt for huge fish and squid by plunging to great depths. They frequently travel great distances from their breeding grounds while at sea, and they may do so frequently. Although killer whales, leopard seals, and some large sharks are known to prey on giant southern elephant seals, this species has few recognized predators.
Where can you see Southern Elephant Seals in Patagonia?
The sole continental breeding colony of Southern Elephant Seals is located on the Valdes Peninsula in Argentine Patagonia. With an estimated population of 700 thousand, southern elephant seals are found all over the Subantarctic region.
One of the best places to see Southern Elephant Seals is Estancia Rincón Chico; a private estate with sixteen kilometers of coastline along the Patagonian Sea, well known as one of the world’s richest marine habitats, and populations of right whales, elephant seals, sea lions, orcas (and other smaller dolphins), penguins, and numerous bird and fish species. It is situated in the southeast corner of the Peninsula Valdés. This is why UNESCO designated the location as a “World Heritage Site” in 1999 and a “Biosphere Reserve” in 2014.
The beaches around Estancia Rincón Chico are home to tens of thousands of Southern elephant seals and South American sea lions that come there to breed and give birth. The estancia’s 16 km of shoreline also offers views of Southern right whales, orcas, penguins, and dolphins. You may view the majority of Patagonia’s natural terrestrial mammals as well as a huge diversity of inland and coastal birds.
When is the best time to see Southern Elephant Seals?
The first males start to show up before the end of August, establishing their harems in preparation for the arrival of the ladies. The first to arrive are the females who are pregnant; they give birth a short time later. The mother will fast while feeding her pup, only using her fat reserves. It is estimated that between August and March, 20 thousand elephant seals travel to the Peninsula Valdes to mate.
Argentina Wildlife tours
We offer custom trips in Argentina and Chile, with Patagonia as one of our best areas of expertise. We invite you to check some of our tours:
- Patagonia Puma Tracking Tour and Orca Whale Watching.
- Tailor Made Holidays Peninsula Valdes
- Patagonia Penguin tour