Dozens of different species of marine mammals can be found off Oregon’s Coast. Perhaps one of the most distinctive to make its way on shore is the Northern Elephant Seal, the largest pinniped carnivore that occurs along the North Pacific Coast. This animal gets its name from its size as well as the trunk-like “nose” – known as a proboscis – that is found on males and can be inflated to enhance vocalizations during mating season. Adult female elephant seals can weigh up to 1,700 pounds, and adult males can weigh up to 5,000 pounds! Unlike other mammals, including humans, that shed hair year-round, elephant seals experience this one time a year in a process called molting when they come ashore and shed the first layer of skin and their fur. The skin and fur come off in sheets as new skin and fur replace the old.
For a period of time elephant seals were thought to be extinct after they were killed in large numbers for their blubber. A small group survived off the coast of Mexico. Thanks to protections in Mexico and the United States, scientists believe there are around 170,000 northern elephant seals today. Elephant seals do not generally breed in Oregon, but visitors to the South Coast may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of one at Cape Arago State Park (near Coos Bay), the only location where elephant seals haul out year round in Oregon.