Male elephant seals are dying to eat

Male elephant seals’ have a voracious drive to bulk up. As a result, they take much greater risks than females when feeding, researchers found. Male northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) can grow up to seven times larger than females. To understand differences in how they feed, Sarah Kienle, an ecophysiologist at Baylor University, and her team attached depth loggers and transmitters to more than 200 seals at Año Nuevo State Park in California. In a study published in Royal Society Open Science, they found females mostly dive deep for prey in the open ocean. Males, on the other hand, stick to shallower areas closer to shore. That helps males bulk up, but it also makes them six times as likely to die in the process, the team found. Kienle suspects they’re being preyed on by orcas (Orcinus orca) and great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias).

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Header Image: Male and female elephant seals have very different feeding habits. Females tend to dive deep. Males often feed closer to shore, putting them at greater risk. Credit: Ashley Spratt/USFWS