In August each year, southern elephant seals return from the open ocean to their breeding grounds to give birth and mate. Males arrive before the pregnant females and wait for their arrival. Once on land, the non-receptive females are harassed by aggressive males who want to mate. To avoid these males, the females collect together into groups known as harems, where a dominant alpha male will protect them from other males, gaining exclusive mating access once they have given birth. Competition for this alpha position is intense, and results in much fighting, vocalizing and impressive displays. The females give birth to a single pup, two to five days after arriving on the breeding grounds. The pups are nursed for around 23 days, but several days before weaning their pups, the females are mated by the dominant males. Once the pup is weaned, the females return to the sea leaving the pups to fend for themselves, and they teach themselves to swim and hunt for four to six weeks before leaving the beaches for the ocean (2).
Southern elephant seals make fairly deep dives for squid, fish, crustaceans, and ascidians. The main foraging areas are located in Antarctic waters. Males forage in areas over the Antarctic continental shelf while females tend to search for food in deeper, offshore waters. As much as 90 percent of their time at sea is spent submerged (2), and thus have an incredible ability to dive to depths as great as 1,430 meters for as longs as 120 minutes (6). Between January and April, the southern elephant seal will again haul itself out onto beaches to molt (5). Molting, during which these enormous mammals gain new skin and hair, can take three to five weeks, during which time the seal relies in stored blubber to provide energy (2)