In the past, the northern elephant seal suffered intense exploitation for its thick blubber which yields high quality oil (3). Hunting started around 1818 and by the 1860s about 250,000 seals had been killed, leaving numbers too low to make hunting worthwhile (2). On a number of occasions it was thought that the species had gone extinct, and by 1892, just a single population of about 100 individuals remained on Guadalupe Island, off northern Baja California (2). Thankfully, the implementation of legal protection allowed numbers to recover, and the northern elephant seal population slowly spread north and south until they reoccupied most of the original range (2).
Today, northern elephant seals continue to increase in both number and range (3). There is some concern that commercial fisheries may be competing with the northern elephant seal for its preferred prey, but otherwise, this species faces no negative interactions with humans (3). Possibly the most serious potential threat to the northern elephant seal is the significant lack of genetic diversity in populations, the result of the drastic declines they underwent in the past. This may leave the northern elephant seal ill equipped to adapt to any changes in their environment (2).