Elephant seal looks rather satisfied after securing 30-strong female harem

Elephant seal looks rather satisfied after

A huge elephant seal was pictured seemingly chuckling after securing a harem of 30 females.

The battle-scarred seal even seems to smirk as he cosies up to one of his mates while still in sight of his rivals.

Wildlife photographer Justin Hofman captured this "laughing" bull at Gold Harbour on South Georgia in the Antarctic Peninsula.

He told Barcrodt Media: "They're always making some funny noise. So to have a laughing elephant seal makes sense - they really do make ridiculous noises."

Justin, from California, spent hours photographing the large male guarding his 30-strong harem of females from rivals - including two smaller males working as a team.

He said one would distract the bull in a vicious fight while the other would sneak in and mate with a female on the periphery of the harem - which can be 100-strong.

However, with some elephant seals reaching 15ft in length and weighing 10,000lb, fights are no laughing matter and "always end in bloodshed".

Justin said: "When they rear up to bash each other, they lift about two-thirds of their body straight up making them stand almost 3m high.

"They slam down onto each other with massive force and their weight, combined with very sturdy teeth, imparts damage nearly every time.

"It's not uncommon to walk around a beach and see scores of males with blood running down their face and chest."

Elephant seal looks rather satisfied after securing 30-strong female harem

The wildlife photographer, from California, was able to capture these close-ups because many of the males were too tired from fighting to charge him.

He said: "When they're not fighting, you can pretty much stand within arm's length of them, just sitting there watching them breathe, looking at their scars and being awed by their size.

"But when they get up and start to bellow, you know it's time to step back."

Elephant seals were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since then the population is estimated to have recovered to about 700,000 members.

There are two species of elephant seal, the northern elephant seal and the southern elephant seal.

The northern species are smaller and are found over the Pacific coast of the US, Canada and Mexico.

The southern species, pictured here, are 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.

Elephant seals take their name from the large proboscis of the adult male (bull) which resembles an elephant's trunk. The bull's proboscis is used in producing extraordinarily loud roaring noises, especially during the mating season.

The animals spend upwards of 80% of their lives in the ocean, returning to land to mate, and can hold their breath for more than 100 minutes.

They dive to between 300 and 600m (980 to 2,000ft), typically for around 20 minutes for females and 60 minutes for males, as they search for their favourite foods, which are skates, rays, squid, octopuses, eels, small sharks, and large fish.

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