Elephant seal (Mirounga leonina), Honoured Guest

The cup of tea could wait.

“We had a very special visitor this week,” said Rosalie, “Do you want to see if he’s still here?” Silly question! I grabbed my camera and we walked down to the headland.

With a wave hello...
With a wave hello…

The gloomy skies hadn’t stopped the tourists and we met a British couple admiring the baby seals below the cliff. Rosalie leaned over a little further and smiled at the beautiful sleeping giant. The sight of him made us laugh out loud (in delight) and the elephant seal responded by opening his big black eyes to stare back at us. At the sound of our voices he heaved himself up and galumphed into the water. Shy but still curious, he stayed close to shore and watched us from the safety of his watery home.

More at home in the water. Best diver ever.
More at home in the water. Best diver ever.

Southern elephant seals are rare visitors to the South Island. They live in the southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans that surround Antarctica. As the largest seals in the world, they can reach a whopping five metres in length. They also have the biggest sexual dimorphism of any seal and perhaps any mammal: bull elephant seals can weigh as much as 4000 kilos. That’s ten times heavier than some females. They are amazing divers: after more than twenty minutes at 1400 metres, they only need two minutes at the surface to catch their breath before they dive again. And to think that this amazing seal’s body was built entirely by fish and squid. We are grateful, at Katiki Point, that penguins are not to his palette.

Although he had the beautiful tawny colour of a breeding male, he was only three metres long and even when he is ready, may not get much of a chance to mate, ever. That right is reserved for only 2-3% of the males who may mate with up to 100 females in a season. But this teenager is still a success story because 90% of male elephant seals die before they even reach breeding age.

Our visitor has yet to develop the nose that earned this seal its name, but this is what his face might look like when he is fully mature…not sure if it is scary or funny. I think both.

Here's looking at you...
Here’s looking at you…

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