Southern Sea Lions
The southern sea lion derives its name from the adult male's coarse
facial hair and
broad neck, which resemble a lion's mane. Males, or
bulls, can weigh up to 1,100 pounds -- twice
the size of a female, or cow. Every year, sea
lions form large breeding and nursing colonies, or rookeries,
on gently-sloping gravel beaches and rock ledges at
the feet of tall coastal cliffs.
Large sea lion colonies are polygamous,
with each male establishing a harem of approximately ten
cows. After pups are born (usually sometime between late December and
mid-February), females mate with and are allowed by
the dominant or Sultan male to return to sea for
a 12 month gestation period. Throughout the year,
whenever a female emerges from the sea to nurse, she
locates her pup by a series of calls and reciprocal
The orca, or killer whale, is the sea lion's chief natural
predator. But human beings have also preyed upon the
species since the 16th century for oil and other
commercial uses. In an attempt to conserve the sea lions,
several breeding areas are now protected and access to
the public is limited.
- After mating season, when the female sea lions
return to sea, the pups wander on shore and
gather at the edge of the water in groups called
- Occasionally, aggressive gangs of sub-adult male sea lions
will raid and attack lone pups.
- Non-harem bulls congregate in "bachelor
clubs" short distances from the
colonies in hopes of nabbing stray females.
Southern Elephant Seals
Huge and cumbersome, southern elephant seals are the
largest of all pinnipeds. Adult males grow up to 21
feet long and attain weights of up to three tons. Spending
most of their lives in ocean waters between Antarctica and
coastal Patagonia, southern
elephant seals lumber ashore during the spring and autumn to
breed and molt respectively.
The elephant seal gets its name from the long, curved
nose the male acquires around the age of three. The snout
plays a significant role in the elephant seal's
spectacular breeding ritual. In these brutal duels, competing males
slam their blubbery bodies together and
drive their canine teeth into each other's skin. Male seals inflate their
proboscis, a symbol of sexual maturity and strength, to threaten enemies
dominance in social rank.
Though elephant seal predators include large sharks, killer whales, and
polar bears, the seal's greatest enemy is man. Hunted by sealers
for their blubber, bones, fur, and oil, the elephant seal
population was reduced nearly to the point of extinction
during the 19th century. Animal protection laws put an
end to large-scale harvesting of the elephant seal and
the species made a remarkable recovery. Presently, the
number of elephant seals has reached a point where
harvesting is again possible, though it is now strictly
- Seals make up an order of mammals called
Pinnipedia. This order is divided into three
classifications: 1) eared seals: fur seals and
sea lions 2) earless seals: elephant seals and
harbor seals and 3) tusked seals: walruses.
- By a process known as a catastrophic molt,
elephant seals shed their coats every autumn,
sloughing large pieces of hair and skin, and
leaving the seal with a ragged and tattered
appearance until it grows new, sleek
- Baby elephants seals, called pups, are nursed for
about a month and then weaned from their mothers.
The Southern Right Whale
Found in the seas around Valdes Peninsula, southern right
whales are giant mammals with thick, solid bodies and
huge heads. Classified as baleen whales, right whales
have hundreds of thin plates in their mouths instead of
teeth. They feed by swimming into masses of plankton with
their mouths wide open. The plates, called baleen, or
whalebone, filter out food -- plankton and small fish --
from large mouthfuls of water. Also known as the giants
of the sea, southern right whales can reach lengths of
about 45 feet and can weigh up to 50 tons. The head alone
makes up almost one third of the total body length.
Southern right whales seek the shelter of the
Patagonian waters in December and stay there for five
months to breed and raise their young. During the
breeding season, the female will mate with numerous males
that compete for her favor. The following year, the female
right whale will return to the same waters to give birth
to her calf.
Right whales derived their name years ago when whalers
hunted them with hand-held harpoons and considered them the
"right" whale to kill because of their slow
speed, close proximity to land, and great buoyancy. They
were the first whales hunted by man and for centuries,
they were harvested for their valuable oil and baleen,
reducing the population close to the point of extinction.
In 1935, the number was so low that an international
agreement was signed to prohibit their further slaughter.
Revitalization of the endangered right whale has been
slow, and the species has become one of the rarest
large mammals. Conservation efforts continue today. After
two or three months of rearing in shallow waters, the
right whales return to sea with their young.
- The Argentine government declared the southern
right whale a Natural Monument in 1984, giving the species
absolute protection within Argentine jurisdiction. It is
species to receive this designation.
- Female right whales give birth only once every
two to three years.
- Right whales have lungs and must surface to
breathe, but can hold their breath for long
periods of time.