Known for their intriguing facial protrusions and charismatic looks, southern elephant seals are large ocean-going seals of the Southern Hemisphere. These blubbery pinnipeds can be found in huge numbers in the Peninsula Valdes on the east coast of Argentina, the fourth-largest colony of elephant seals on the planet. They are truly colossal creatures, with male bulls weighing up to 4,000 kilograms (8,800 pounds) and measuring up to six metres (20 feet) long. They take their name from the male’s large proboscis, which is used to produce loud roars in mating season. But their noses have another function: specially adapted cavities reabsorb moisture when the seal exhales, keeping them hydrated.
Elephant seals spend around 80 per cent of their lives in the ocean feeding on squid, octopus and fish. They are agile swimmers and can dive to a depth of 1,550 metres (5,085 feet) and remain underwater for up to 120 minutes as they have a large volume of blood for storing oxygen. A thick layer of blubber protects them against the cold, but despite their appearance, they are fast on land thanks to their hind limbs, which propel them forwards.
While their numbers are prolific today, elephant seals were hunted to the brink of extinction in the 19th century and still face threats such as fishing and marine waste. Full-day tours of the Peninsula Valdes are offered from Puerto Madryn with bilingual guides and naturalists. Here you can see elephant seals in their natural habitat, along with penguins and sea lions. Tours also include optional whale watching boat trips between July and December.