Scientists Witness First-Time Altruism Of Male Elephant Seal

Feb 10, 2024 | News

February 10, 2024

Today’s good News comes from Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

A study in the journal Marine Mammal Science describes a rare and unusual display of altruism by an adult male northern Elephant Seal at Point Reyes National Seashore, California. The seal rescued a young pup that was in distress.

Scientists Sarah G. Allen, Matthew J. Lau and others who were conducting seal surveys in the area witnessed this remarkable event. Scientists at Drakes Bay witnessed a female seal and her pup separated by the tidal wave and wash. The pup was less than two weeks of age and at risk of being swept off by the undertow.

The female frantically called out to her stranded pup but was unable to follow it as the waves pulled the young seal farther from the shore. The story’s unexpected hero emerged at that point – a male elephant seal alpha from a nearby harem.


The male, who was identified as the alpha in the small harem responded to the distress call and charged into action. Ignoring her rebuff, he quickly swam to the struggling pup. Instead of using force to push the pup towards the shore, the male used the body to gently guide it.

The male worked tirelessly for nearly 20 minutes to bring the pup back to its mother, who was waiting on the beach. The heartwarming reunion happened just 4 meters away from where the pup was separated from its mother.

Researchers noted that the male’s altruistic behavior went beyond what is typically observed in marine mammals. In many cases, elephant seal males are more focused on mating than parental care. This extraordinary display of altruism challenges conventional portrayals of male marine mammals behavior.

After the successful rescue of the young pup, the pair moved to a higher place on the beach where the female expressed her gratitude. The male, who had shown his selfless dedication to the pup’s well-being, responded with a loud trumpet call before resting in the wet sand.

This observation challenges preconceived notions of marine mammal behavior and reveals their complex and compassionate nature. Scientists hope that this extraordinary case of altruism inspires further research into social dynamics and behaviors among these incredible creatures.

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