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Northern elephant seals        Images © Mark A. Chappell

Like many seals, northern elephant seals show extreme sexual dimorphism.   Males are several times bigger than females, and also have the droopy nose that gives the species its name, and heavy skin along the neck for protection in fights with other males.  In the mating pair at left, the male shows many scars from defending his dominant rank so that he can keep his position in a group of females, and mate relatively undisturbed as they come into estrus.  This female is vocalizing loudly; that will get the attention of any nearby males, so that only dominant males can successfully mate without being attacked and chased away.

Northern elephant seals are a spectacular conservation success story: they have rebounded from a tiny population of a few dozen individuals in 1900 to more than 100,000 animals today.   Historically, these big seals bred only on offshore islands where they were safe from terrestrial predators.  But with the demise of California's grizzly bears, it's now possible for them to set up mainland colonies and as the population grows, more and more are being established.   The picture at right was taken at such a place: a stretch of beach between San Simeon and Cape Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County.   The seals are literally just off of Highway One -- in fact, fences had to be placed to keep the animals from lumbering onto the road.

  • left: Canon EOS1v, 500 mm F4 IS lens, Ektachrome 100VS (2003)
  • right: Canon EOS1v, Sigma 28-70 f2.8 lens at 28 mm, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter, Ektachrome 100VS (2001)