Northern elephant seals are not presently endangered. At one time, however, this species was thought to have been hunted to extinction. They were presume extinct by the 1880's, after being exploited by hunters and whalers seeking to use the animals' thick layer of blubber as an oil source. A few animals were then discovered in 1892 which were captured and killed for scientific study. Eventually, it was discovered that a population of about 20 to 100 individuals had survived. Studies have shown that all individuals of the current population, which has grown to over 175,000, are relatives of these few survivors. The population bottleneck that occurred during this time is of concern because genetic variation is reduced, creating the possibility for the population to be vulnerable to disease or reproductive failure. (Bonner, 1990; Weber et al., 2000)
- Bonner, W. 1990. The Natural History of Seals. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc..
- Weber, D., B. Stewart, J. Garza, N. Lehman. 2000. An empirical genetic assessment of the severity of the northern elephant seal population bottleneck. Current Biology, 10: 1287-1290.