Sailing the Almirante Montt Gulf heading South-East, in its southern arm of the Andes that begins to sink into the sea, is the Guardramiro Fjord and at its end is Juarez Small Cove, a beautiful beach of white sands and green vegetation; it is the den of a colony of elephant seals that has decided to live and reproduce at this latitude. An incredible sanctuary, which with stealth and respect will allow us to take a boat excursion to see these giant and beautiful marine animals up close. We will not disembark on the beach to keep this sanctuary intact and will only do sighting and proximity from our expedition boats.
The elephant seal is a genus of pinniped mammals of the Phocids family. The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) is the one we will sight on this tour and is the largest pinniped that exists today, and probably it is also the largest that has ever existed in the history of planet Earth.
The most notable feature of this species is the presence of an enormous sexual dimorphism, the greatest among all mammal species. Males can reach 6 m (or 19,7 ft) or more in length and weight up to 4 tonnes (or 8,818 lbs), while females do not exceed 3 m (9,84 ft) and 900 kg (1,984 lbs). Male individuals also have an elongated snout similar to a short trunk, which has earned them the nickname “elephant”. With regard of the northern elephant seals, males are also differentiated by their darker color, while as far as the southern elephant seals are concerned both sexes have a grayish color.
After spending most of year at sea, elephant seals migrate to the shores where they were born to reproduce and change their skin. The males arrive first and engage in brutal battles for dominance of as large a portion of beach as possible, so that the females that subsequently arrive on the shore will fall under their dominance and mate with them. The result of these confrontations is the large number of scars that adorn the neck and head of the males, a sign of old wounds inflicted by the canines of former rivals. During combat, males may lose a copious amount of blood and even part of their “trunk”, and it is not uncommon for one of the combatants to die of the wounds received shortly after.
After the battle, they return to the sea to feed and recover from it, returning regularly to the shore to guard their domains and form their harem, using the trunk for their mating call, which grows up to 45 cm (17,7 in).