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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 answers.

Conservation Efforts
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.

Interesting Facts

  • 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 pods.
  • 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 and establish dominance in social rank.

Conservation Efforts
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 regulated.

Interesting Facts

  • 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 fur.
  • 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.

Conservation Efforts
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.

Interesting Facts

  • The Argentine government declared the southern right whale a Natural Monument in 1984, giving the species absolute protection within Argentine jurisdiction. It is the first 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.

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