Share | | More

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Elephant Seal Encounter on Hornby Island

Last week I had the unique opportunity of spending some time with a molting elephant seal. He and his kind would normally spend most of their time beneath the sea so we were lucky to see him. Able to dive to depths of 2000 metres and able to stay submerged for up to 2 hours by slowing their heart rate down, they are only rarely seen on shore. Named after the proboscis like nose of the males, elephant seals, when seen, are often mistaken for sea monsters.

This individual looked as though he had contracted an unfortunate skin disease with the additional insult of a propeller encounter, but upon a closer look we realized that his molt involved loosing not only his hair but his entire outer layer of skin! So the scratches were his own.

With a diet of species like ratfish, sharks, skate, squid and eels, a male Elephant seal can easily get up to 5,000 pounds and I would say that this one was pretty close to that size.

Although they used to be common on the northern pacific coast, to have such an encounter is now quite rare as elephant seals were wiped out in the late 1800; hunted for their oil which was used for fuel and lubricant. They were thought to be extinct, but some survived and populations from California to Alaska are up to more than 1,500 individuals now.

Let’s hope their populations continue to grow so that such encounters will become more common on our coast.

Kim Wright is the Marine Planning and Protected Areas Campaign Manager at Living Oceans Society.


  1. Aboslutely amazing photos and story.. thank you ! Missing the pinnepeds !!!

  2. If you want to learn more about elephant seals and see some really cool pictures, check out this blog, exclusively devoted to the critters:

  3. Aug 4, 2011: My daughter and I were kayaking off Hornby Island and pulled up on some rocks off shore for a break. We were admiring the 20+ Harbour Seals curiously bobbing up and down checking us out when I looked over the rock and 10 yards from us was this huge head out of water looking at us. It was puffing up its big snout telling us to move on I suppose. Evenually figured this was an Elephant Seal. We watched him for a few minutes and then he dissapeared. Exciting.

    Conor D.