When southern elephant seals are on land, they are typically found along the coast of sub-Antarctic islands on smooth beaches of sand or small rocks. Although they used to breed well into temperate regions, M. leonina are now only found farther south. They are found on land during the breeding season, from August to November, and the molting season, which lasts 3 to 5 weeks in the spring. The rest of the year is spent entirely at sea. During this time they can be found from sub-Antarctic waters to almost as far north as the equator, often venturing thousands of kilometers from their breeding grounds. While males typically forage on the Antarctic continental shelf, females travel farther into open waters. During their time at sea, southern elephant seals can sustain dives for up to two hours, but most dives last only around thirty minutes. Amazingly, they only spend 2 to 3 minutes on the surface between dives. During most trips at sea, they are underwater for 90% of the time, day and night. While most dives are only between 300 and 800 m, dives of over 1500 m have been recorded, nearing depths only surpassed in mammals by sperm whales. ("Elephant Seals", 1983; "Elephant Seals", 2002; Anderson, 2003; Carroll, 2002; Gaskin, 1972; Nowak, 2003; Seal Conservation Society, 2001; Slip and Clippingdale, 2002)
- Gaskin, D. 1972. Whales Dolphins and Seals. London: heinemann Educational Books.
- Nowak, R. 2003. Walker's Marine Mammals of the World. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.