Mirounga – Southern & Northern elephant seals

'Mirounga' is the result of the Latinization of 'miouroung', which means seals in the Aboriginal language

These two colossal pinnipeds, the Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina) and the Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris) are renowned for their remarkable size, with the Southern Elephant Seal holding the title as the largest of all extant carnivorans.

Elephant seals are easily distinguishable by their massive size, with adult males reaching up to 4000 kg (8800 pounds) in weight, particularly in the case of the Southern Elephant Seal. This significant size difference between the species is indicative of their adaptation to different habitats and ecological niches within the marine environment. Male elephant seals, known for their large proboscis, which resembles an elephant’s trunk, use this distinctive feature during vocal displays in mating competitions, serving both as an amplifier for their calls and as a symbol of dominance.

By the end of the 19th century, the relentless hunt for their blubber had driven both species of Mirounga to the brink of extinction. This dark period in their history highlights the impact of human exploitation on marine species. However, through international conservation efforts and the establishment of protective measures, both the Southern and Northern Elephant Seal populations have made remarkable recoveries. Today, they are classified as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), demonstrating the success of dedicated wildlife protection initiatives.

Despite their recovery, elephant seals continue to face threats from human activities. Boat collisions represent a significant risk to these animals, particularly in heavily trafficked maritime routes. Additionally, entanglement in fishing nets poses a deadly hazard, leading to injury or death for many seals each year. These ongoing threats underscore the importance of continued vigilance and conservation efforts to ensure the long-term survival of these majestic marine mammals.