Fast Facts: Elephant Seals

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How deep would you go for a good meal? Not as far as an elephant seal. These enormous mammals have specializations that allow them to dive deeper than a mile for for as long as two hours in search of food, and they spend just a couple of months out of the year on land. 

A life-sized model of an elephant seal will be on display in Life at the Limits. ©AMNH

A life-sized model of an elephant seal will be on display in Life at the Limits.

©AMNH


  • Male elephant seals can hold their breath for longer than almost any other mammal, diving beneath the waves for up to two hours without surfacing for air.
  • Elephant seals live for just two months of the year on land. They spend the rest of their time mostly underwater, hunting squids and fishes.
  • Scientists have learned much about elephant seal behavior by using tracking devices, which record water temperature, light intensity, and swimming speed.
  • The blood of elephant seals is key to their diving ability. Pound for pound, the animals have three times as much blood as a human, and their blood is richer in hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen.
  • The shock you get when diving into cold water is your body’s way of conserving oxygen and prioritizing blood flow to vital organs. This reflex, common to all mammals, is far more pronounced in elephant seals, which slow their metabolism greatly to make the most of every breath of air.

Find out more about these massive mammals in Life at the Limits: Stories of Amazing Species, opening April 4.