Southern Elephant Seal
Southern elephant seals live in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters that feature brutally cold conditions but are rich in the fish, squid, and the other marine foods they enjoy. Instantly recognisable for the trunk-like inflatable snouts of the males, which they use to make extremely loud roaring noises, especially in the mating season. The largest of all seals, males can be 20 feet long and up to 8,800 pounds, with females 8 to 10 times smaller. They migrate in search of food, spending months at sea and often diving deep to forage, often reaching depths of 400 to 1,500 metres. They return to their rookeries in winter to breed and give birth. Though both male and female elephant seals spend time at sea, their migration routes and feeding habits differ: males follow a more consistent route while females vary their routes in pursuit of moving prey.
The crabeater seals are the most abundant seal species on Earth, with around 30 million living in Antarctica’s icy oceans, and can be found in the circumpolar pack ice at the edge of the Antarctic continent and adjacent islands. This ‘pack ice’ is year round in Antarctica, acting like an enormous boundary, advancing and retreating with the seasons. Compared to their cousins, they are relatively slender and pale, with an average length of 7–8 feet and weight of 450 pounds. They are surprisingly agile on land, their movements often appearing snake-like, especially as they slip from solid blocks of ice into the cold Antarctic water. They will sometimes spend 16 hours a day diving for krill, staying underwater for about 5 minutes at a time.
Weddell seals spend much of their time below the Antarctic ice, avoiding their main predators, orcas and leopard seals and can dive up to 2,000 feet down and stay under for up to 45 minutes. As with any seal, they must come up to breath so if a natural opening or ‘crack’ cannot be found, they often use their teeth to open and maintain air holes in the ice. They have the southernmost range of any seal, but find the chilly waters rich with their favourite prey, including cod and silverfish as well as small crustaceans, octopuses, and other marine creatures. They do not migrate often and are commonly found within a few miles of their birthplace.