Elephant Seals on South Georgia Island, Southern Atlantic

How to Cuddle with an Elephant Seal

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Once in a great while I come across something so profoundly touching that I am compelled to share it. I was astonished by a video of a woman interacting with an elephant seal in Gold Harbour on remote South Georgia island, located in the South Atlantic off the east coast of South America. In the video, she sits on the ground next to a seal; the animal gradually creeps closer and cuddles up to her, repeatedly reaching up to touch noses. It is the purest example of trust and affection between humans and animals I have ever seen. The video was removed just two days later and the owner’s YouTube account was closed, to the consternation of all who saw it and those who had not yet seen it but had heard the excitement over the footage. Later, it reappeared, posted by a different user. That account holder eventually had to take it down due to copyright infringement issues, but now it has reappeared in several YouTube videos, thus I can once again feature it here. I have no idea how long it will stay up, but for the moment I hope many people take the time to watch.

Commenters on the original YouTube video were split in their opinions about the woman’s actions. Some pointed out that an elephant seal can be aggressive and weigh up to 6,000 pounds, while others objected more vehemently, arguing that this type of interaction irrevocably alters the natural state of wild animals. Although I agree that we should never try to initiate this type of behavior, I also believe that animals – especially mammals – crave affection. In my opinion, if the animal initiates contact, interaction is acceptable. I do wonder about the original video. Was it removed because of the controversy (commenters in social media venues can be brutal) over her actions? Did the tour company find out about the footage and ask her to remove it? I guess we will never know, I am just grateful it’s back.

102 Comments on “How to Cuddle with an Elephant Seal

  1. Just FYI, the woman in the video is a marine biologist – she obviously knows what she’s doing and the correct way to interact with these animals and not get mauled. Truly beautiful.

      • I am amazed at both of them. I love her amazement when she mouth’s “Can you see this”? What a moment in her life. I myself, would love to touch one and see how soft they truly look. That baby sure loves to cuddle up and it seems the baby is doing the baby/mother meet and greet with smelling each others’ mouth for their wee kisses.
        Truly a remarkable experience for us the watchers and the woman who experienced this love fest.

        • I am touched every single time I watch it, Jaclyn. Thanks so much for your comment.

  2. I am a diver and have often had close encounters with California sea lions. Many times they approach playfully, grab onto a swim fin, blow bubbles, hover upside down or present their backs for a good scratching. They like the roughness of my dive gloves. We need to remember that we are a part of God’s creation and it is ok to interact in a safe and sane way with animals who, even though wild, sometimes want interaction. I see nothing wrong with this interaction as long as the seal initiated contact (which it did).

  3. Hate to be a party pooper, but what about the chance of giving the animal a contagious disease if you are merely a carrier.

  4. I posted the video at YouTube and I think I was the second person that posted it. At first it was automatically banned by YouTube’s software as “copyright infringement.” I contacted YouTube by email and it was reactivated until a day or two ago. Now it’s been officially banned by a complaint by “Amazing Nature Videos.” I don’t know who these people are or why they complained but it’s now banned. I was even contacted by someone named “Julie” that wanted to know more information because she was interested in putting it on a National Geographic website called “Caught in the Act.” Of course I told her I didn’t film it and didn’t know who the photographer was or who the lady in the video was. At any rate, I was very disappointed that it was banned. Most of the comments were positive comments.

    • Hi All: I find it really strange that someone wants to bury this video so
      badly. There’s got to be more to the story, but I doubt we’ll ever know what
      it is. I’m just glad the site I’ve linked to still has it up.

  5. I just watched the video, it came to me in an email. It was so fascinating and sweet. The woman in the video obviously knew not to reach out, or advance on the seal. The seal was so gentle and in love with this woman. It was evident that it intended her no harm, but just wanted interaction and affection. Wonderful, fabulous video!!

  6. I too would have found the affectionate seal irresistable, but the sad truth is, with that kind of contact, she could have given the animal a disease that may be un-healthy or even deadly for that particular species.

  7. Thank you, When I FIRST SAW THIS VIDEO I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, THIS MUST BE A YOUNG ELEPHANT SEAL.
    Hope this seal does well with future encounters with humans. The young woman tourist did everything right. Would like to learn more about elephant seals and their mating behavior………..Was this a female seal looking for a friend or a male looking to mate? Just curious.

  8. Well, having just seen the video in an e-mail, I think the seal is not a male as stated but a female. I think a male would flatten the tourist by its size and, if provoked in any way, I’m sure would cause serious injury if not death by biting.

  9. I agree that this was a remarkable interaction, I kept wishing that could have been me! – I was a bit worried though about the larger adult lounging close-by – they can be very aggressive….the female who may have seen the woman as a threat to her pup, or a male who may have been territorial – mammals do love affection and this was a rare treat for the woman who got to experience it! – boo to those who were so critical

  10. Isn’t it a shame that there are relatively few interspecies experiences as beautiful as this. And when they occur, they stir controversy. Yes, it might have been dangerous, but I think I would probably risk that to have such an experience. I am happy that such experiences are possible.

    • Toeknee: I agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes, we just have to tune into the
      energy of the animal and put ur trust in it.

  11. How is it that humans forget they are mammals, uh, animals, too? Unfortunately, too many people are so far removed from nature that they cannot see that this woman is very much in tune with it. The problem in this world is that people try to compartmentalize everything they see…and actually pass judgement upon others. My upbringing as a Buddhist taught me that everything is in this world for a reason and that we are dependent upon one another for our survival. That there is a reason we are here and the removal of any entity could cause an imbalance. Being one with nature is an awesome awareness.

  12. You go, girl!!! I loved what you said and was completely charmed by the video!! Sincerely, Nancy

  13. I am a huge animal lover and just for one moment like this would be the most amazing thing in the world.

  14. You thought of the woman; I thought of the animal. If this animal learns that humans are to be trusted, some awful thing will happen to the seal at some point (like being trapped, put in a zoo, killed, or God-knows-what.) The woman knows what she is doing. The seal is young and innocent.

  15. Exquisite. Having been in The Galapagos Islands I fully understand how the interaction with sea lions can change your life forever. Certainly this woman’s life is altered in the most profound way. Beautiful!

  16. I love this video and really enjoyed the background music….does anyone know what group it is? I would love to get the CD!

    Thanks

    • Jose Padilla, song is Adios Ayer. It is on the Cafe Dal Mar Series, volume six. The whole series of CD’s is incredible.

  17. People are interacting with animals all over the world including pods of whales. There is a message there if we can just pick up on it. Life is beautiful in all of its shapes and forms and this video if it can be kept going will reach people in a way they have never been reached before – in the heart. I was priviledged to have seen it. Thank you. Robyn

  18. I believe this is the most loving and sweet video I have ever seen between a human being and a wild animal. Since this sweet young seal initiated the contact, and the woman was obviously receptive and confident she would not be injured, I cannot, for the life of me, understand what the problem is. Why is there always someone who has nothing better to do than complain and pass judgment. Why can’t we accept that this was a very special event and this young lady was very lucky to have been part of this “happening”? I for one, would happily take her place.

  19. Watching the video, I wondered if it was a metaphor for other human interactions. What a gentle and loving way to initiate an interaction with another living thing.

  20. Am I the only one here who thinks this human/wild animal interaction is totally inappropriate and suicidal? All I could think of was one big bite and her face would be gone. Wild animals are to be viewed from a distance and left alone in nature.

    • I put it to you that this woman was no ordinary tourist and was probably a marine biologist or the like and well aware of the risks. To sit in the vicinity of the adult seals takes confidence in what you are doing, let alone allowing interaction. To her it would be no different to skydiving or scuba diving, many activities have life threatening risks and yet people still do these things once armed with knowledge and/or training. I bet she is thrilled with the encounter as a result of her risky actions, and Im sure if things didn’t work out so well that she would not be the type of person to be blaming the tour company or the world at large for her actions. An animal would not initiate such an affectionate interaction with a lesser human.

    • Yes, you probably are the only one who cannot see the beauty in this. I have been to this beach but was not fortunate to have such an experience, but certainly was approached by numerous juvenile King penguins. As for the Elephant seal, it is clearly a juvenile and missing Mum (Mom for the Yanks). I have seen a mother leaving for whatever reason to go to sea and her pup being quite distressed by being left alone. I suggest that in this case the pup sought interaction from another animal, just as is often seen withe the aforementioned juvenile Kings or Woollies.

  21. What a big loveable jam tart! I sent this to all my animal-loving friends, and we all hope that the little(?) chap is safe among his own family, and that any future encounters with humans will never cause him harm.
    I just sat there mesmerized by your video. It brought a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye.

  22. Amazing and remarkably touching! In fact, this video is probably one of the most precious things I’ve ever seen in my life! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  23. I had a similar, but more fun experience snorkeling near one of the Galapagos Islands. I your sea lion engaged me in a splash fight. He came right up to me and stared at my eyes through my mask. I feared that he was aggressive and going to bite me, so I surfaced. He surfaced. I splashed him. He splashed me back. I dove down and he circled around me. He dove and I circled around him. This splash fight dance lasted about 20 minutes. This clip was a great reminder of one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. Thank you!

  24. Many interesting points raised by responses to this amazing video. I agree with so many of the comments about the necessity of protecting wildlife from foolish or cruel humans. Yes, I was touched by the interaction but also wondered if anthropomorphism didn’t play a huge part of how we perceived this animal. Those lustrous and beautiful eyes and that sweet “smile”. It was a “good thing” to see this video and a good learning experience to read the responses. Thank you.

  25. Wow!! This was amazing. I firmly believe that animals, especially mammals are sentient beings and are curious about us and other species! Stillness is how many scientists have learned about critters. Look @ Jane Goodall.

    This scares me too cuz there are a lot of amazingly stupid,scary and evil people out there who would try to benefit financially or worse, cause harm to these glorious creatures.

    Never have I been so touched yet so torn. I am happy the woman had the experience though.

    • I feel the same way as Cecily. I would have loved the experience the woman in the video experiencedl; however, I tend to stay away from resting seals and hope others do too. There are so many crazy people out there and if the seals let their guard down the thought of what can be done to them is upsetting.

      I had mixed emotions over the video.

      • This woman did stay away from the animal. It approached her. There is a convention that you approached no closer than 5 metres to any animal. I have no doubt she obeyed this injenction. However, on occasion wildlife will approach you. Why would you then move away unless the animal had some negative purpose, like eating you. I have been on this beach and had numerous encounter with juvenile penguins. In Africa I had a baby Mountain Gorilla come up and play with my leg. Mum was a couple of metres away and the silverback was perhaps ten metres away. Neither was concerned so I wasn’t either.
        I have no mixed emotions about the video but I did have emotions. It brought a tear to my eye.
        Given the location of this event there is almost no chance that people with evil intent would ever get there. South Georgia is a long way off and rather hostile in its environment.

  26. Wow!! This was amazing. I firmly believe that animals, especially mammals are sentient beings and are curious about us and other species! Stillness is how many scientists have learned about critters. Look @ Jane Goodall.

    This scares me too cuz there are a lot of amazingly stupid,scary and evil people out there who would try to benefit financially or worse, cause harm to these glorious creatures.

    Never have I been so touched yet so torn. I am happy the woman had the experience though.

    • I am so glad that so many of you loved the video as much as I did. Each time I watch it I am moved to tears by its beauty and pure love and affection between human and creature.

  27. I loved watching the video and wish it were a good thing that this video exists. Some people have expressed the concern that this video could encourage people to approach elephant seals and, if injured, cause negative consequences to the elephant seals. I agree with that, but I have another concern. When a wild animal has a positive interaction with a human, there is the potential that the animal will lose the fear of humans that they need in order to survive poachers and other human hunters.

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