E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Mirounga angustirostris (Gill, 1866)
Northern Elephant Seal
Family: Otariidae
Species account authors: Peter Olesiuk and Michael Bigg
Extracted from Marine Mammals of British Columbia, Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Photo of species

© Jamie Fenneman  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #3261)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Mirounga angustirostris in British Columbia
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Species Information

The Northern Elephant Seal is the largest species of pinniped inhabiting the Northern Hemisphere. Adults females grow to about 3 m (10 ft.) in length and may weigh up to one tonne (2,200 lbs). Adult males are larger and may attain a length of 5 m (16 ft) and weigh as much as 2 tonnes (4,400 lbs). Males may also be distinguished from females by their pendulous snouts. Pups weigh about 30 kg (65 lbs) at birth and are weaned in about a month, by which time they have tripled in weight. The pelage of both sexes is a uniform light brown.



Northern Elephant Seals are capable of diving for up to 45 minutes and to a depth of 800 m (2,600 feet). They prey mainly on ratfish, sharks, cusk eels and squid. This seal has not been a problem for fishers in B.C.
Behaviour and Biology

During December to March, most Northern Elephant Seals congregate on islands and beaches off California and Mexico to bear their young and mate. By the end of March the pups have been weaned and all animals begin to disperse from the rookeries to forage on the continental slope. Pups and adult males tend to move north along the coast, occasionally as far as Alaska. Relatively few reach B.C. Adults rarely haul out in B.C. And are usually seen resting vertically in the water with their massive head and neck extending above the water like a large log. However, weaned pups, which weigh about 70 kgs (150 lbs), occasionally come ashore to rest. Because of their lethargic behavious, they are often mistakenly thought to be sick.

Editor's Note 2014: Elephant Seals are now known to breed at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve in British Columbia. The most recent birth at this location was on January 14th, 2014.


Northern Elephant Seals are found in the northeast Pacific between California and southern Alaska. Nineteenth century sealers operating off the coast of California and Mexico hunted these seals to the brink of extinction, and by the turn of the century the species had been reduced to a few hundred individuals. Since then the population has made a remarkable recovery to near historic levels of about 100,000 and is continuing to increase.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeS1BRedNAR (May 1986)
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Notes

Editor's Note:

The Elephant Seal is now known to breed in British Columbia. A pup was born on January 14, 2014 at Race Rocks--the fifth pup born there to the same mother since January 2009 (Fletcher 2014). Read more about Elephant Seals on Garry Fletcher's Race Rocks blog: http://www.racerocks.ca/wp/author/admin/.

The Elephant Seal is found widely in the North Pacific; males range farther north (as far as Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands) than females (BC Species and Ecosystem Explorer 2009). Migrates between breeding/molting areas and feeding grounds over a 12 month period, traveling about 20,000 km (BC Species and Ecosystem Explorer 2009). It is a nocturnal, deep pelagic feeder famous for the long time intervals it can remain underwater (Wikipedia 2009). Le Boeuf et al. (1989), during their study of diving patterns, recorded a longest dive period of 62 minutes. This mainly pelagic species goes ashore twice a year, once to breed and once to moult (Loyd 2008). A moulting Elephant Seal was observed on the shore in West Vancouver in 2013.

Additional Photo Sources

Species References

References for the Additional Notes:

BC Species and Ecosystem Explorer. 2009. Northern Elephant Seal species summary. BC Ministry of Environment, Victoria. Available online.

Le Boeuf, Burney J., Yasuhiko Naito, Anthony C. Huntley and Tomohiro Asaga. 1989. Prolonged, continuous, deep diving by northern elephant seals. Canadian Journal of Zoology 67 (10): 2514–2519.

Lloyd, Julie. 2008.Peter Olesiuk on Pinnipeds. The Whelk, April 8, 2008.

Wikipedia. 2009 Elephant Seal Information Page. Available online.

For further information and more photos of Northern Elephant Seals, visit RaceRocks.

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2024-06-19 7:26:08 AM]
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