A friendship sealed: An elephant pup of 200 lb snuggles up with a photographer for a big hug

  • Chris Bray with Jess Taunton was in South Georgia, South Atlantic 
  • Photographs of the remote island’s king penguins were taken by the couple. 
  • Three elephant seal pups approached Jess as she lay on her back.
  • While Jess was filming, the seals sat on her legs and arms while her husband kept filming  

The hilarious moment that a 200lb elephant sealing stumbled over to cuddle up to a South Georgia wildlife photographer is this. 

Jess Taunton was on a photographic expedition in Gold Harbour, on the South Atlantic island, when she and her husband Chris Bray came across a group of king penguins.

Jess sat down in order to capture the flightless birds. A group of pups from elephant seals approached Jess and her husband.

Jess was the first to notice that one of their pups had left the group.

Jess Taunton, pictured, was photographing penguins in South Georgia when she was approached by an elephant seal cub

Jess Taunton was out photographing penguins south of Georgia when she was approached and rescued by an elephant seal cub.

Within a couple of minutes, a second and a third seal came to investigate the Australian wildlife photographer

A second seal arrived to examine the Australian wildlife photographer within a matter of minutes. 

Several people criticised her online for getting too close to the seals, but she said the pups approached her and official guidance says people should not attempt to push them off

Many people criticised her for being too close to seals. But she stated that the pups approached and her official guidance states people shouldn’t push them away.

As if giving Jessica a hug, the strange creature puts its weight repeatedly on Jessica’s body. 

The elephant seals of the region can grow to up to 8.800lbs in weight and reach 19 feet in height. 

A second seal followed, and then a third. They all laid their eggs on an Australian wildlife photographer.  

Chris, an Australian geographic wildlife photographer, stated that Jess, her wife, was lying down to capture a photo of some South Georgia king penguins when a gang of marauding elephant seal pups decided they would flop over to give Jess a hug.

They are as adorable as they are heavy.

Some people thought Jessica was too close to seals after the video of December 2018’s encounter went viral online. 

She said: 'As anyone who's been lucky enough to go to South Georgia knows, young elephant seal pups like this are almost as curious and brazen as they are heavy'

She explained that the young elephant seal pups are as bright and curious as they are dangerously heavy.

She responded to her Instagram post: “Young elephant seal pups such as this one are just as curious and brave as their heavy counterparts. 

While there are IAATO guidelines, (I am an IAATO-accredited field guide), that recommend Antarctic tourists avoid getting closer than 5m to seals, nobody tells them this. 

“If you are crouching down to photograph passing King penguins, as I was, then it is not common for these giants of the blubbery sea creatures to flip right up and inspect you.

According to her, the guidelines forbid pushing the seals off, because they can eventually make you feel numb. 

Jess said: “Unfortunately, when something goes viral, large numbers of people view it (and don’t bother reading the caption), a small minority won’t get what is actually being shown. They will jump right to the incorrect assumption that I must have stood right up underneath the pup in order to take this photo.  

Northern elephant seals vs. southern

The northern and the southern elephant seals are distinct.

Northern elephant seals 

Northern elephant seals (Mirounga Angustirostris, California) are found on California and Baja California. However they tend to prefer offshore islands over the North American mainland.

Southern elephant seals 

Mirounga Leonina, the southern elephant seal, lives in sub-Antarctic or Antarctic waters. These extreme cold temperatures are harsh but they have plenty of fish, squid and other marine food that seals love. Southern elephant seals are able to breed on the land, but they spend the winters near Antarctic pack ice in frigid Antarctic waters.

Southern elephants are among the most massive of all seals. A male can grow to over 20 feet and weigh in at up to 8,800 lbs. Because of their enormous size, these huge pinnipeds don’t get the name elephant seals. The name of these giant pinnipeds comes from their inflatable trunks.

Reproduction and mating battles 

The male elephant seals protect and establish their territory when the breeding season begins. The harem consists of approximately 40-50 females. They are often smaller than their enormous mates. For mating dominance, males will fight each other. Some fights are characterized by aggressive and raucous posturing. Others turn out to be bloody, violent confrontations.

The sea elephants or seals known as them give birth to one pup in winter. They nurse the baby for around a month. While suckling their young, females do not eat—both mother and child live off the energy stored in ample reserves of her blubber. After an eleven-month gestation, a female gives birth to one pup every year.


In search of food, elephant seals travel for months and sometimes dive deep into the ocean to catch fish. The seals return to the nests they built in summer to breed, and to give birth. Both male and female elephant seals can be found at sea. However, the routes they take to migrate and their feeding patterns differ. Males tend to follow a consistent path while females change their route in search of prey.

They were hunted aggressively for their oil and were almost extinct at one point. Legal protections have allowed populations to rebound.

 Source: National Geographic