Elephant seals (also sea elephants) are large, oceangoing seals in the genus Mirounga. The two species, the northern elephant seal (M. angustirostris) and the southern elephant seal (M. leonina), both were hunted to the brink of extinction by the end of the 19th century, but numbers have since recovered.
The northern elephant seal, somewhat smaller than its southern relative, ranges over the Pacific coast of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The most northerly breeding location on the Pacific Coast is at Race Rocks, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The southern elephant seal is found in the Southern Hemisphere on islands such as South Georgia and Macquarie Island, and on the coasts of New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina in the Peninsula Valdés, which is the fourth-largest elephant seal colony in the world. Fossils of an as yet unnamed species of Mirounga have been found in South Africa, and dated to the Miocene epoch.
Elephant seals breed annually and are seemingly faithful to colonies that have been established breeding areas.
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