Southern elephant seals belong to the Phocidae family, which are earless seals. They are easily recognisable by their large trunk-like nose and huge body reaching 400 to 500 cm in length and weighing up to a massive 3600 kg (3.6 tonnes). Females are noticeably smaller weighing only 500 kg. Fur colour is dark to chocolate brown. Southern elephant seals once bred on King Island but were exterminated by the early 19th century. They now turn up on Tasmanian coasts only very occasionally with even rarer records of breeding. A breeding colony may be re establishing on Maatsuyker Island. A population of about 85 000 southern elephant seals live on Macquarie Island, including about 19 000 females. Animals come ashore in August to commence breeding from September to October. This time also coincides with the females pupping from the previous mating season. Non-breeding animals usually stay at sea during winter. Southern elephant seals also breed on Heard Island in the Antarctic. Threats are from deliberate persecution and hunting, entanglement in fishing gear, marine pollution including oil, chemicals and plastics, disturbance to breeding colonies and depletion of food stocks due to unsustainable commercial fishing.
Source; Bryant, S. L. and Jackson, J. (1999). Tasmania’s Threatened Fauna Handbook. Threatened Species Unit, Parks and Wildlife Service, Hobart.
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