Elephant Seals on South Georgia Island, Southern Atlantic

VIDEO: How to Cuddle with an Elephant Seal

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.

104 Comments on “VIDEO: How to Cuddle with an Elephant Seal

  1. Wonderful video and what a life-changing experience. It’s great to read through everyone’s responses and seems to highlight for me that we as animals are longing to reconnect with our natural world as much as this young seal wanted to connect with the woman in the video.

    All amazement aside, I believe it’s dangerous for people to approach animals in the wild in their own habitat, perhaps where they are protecting young, food, or a mate – this woman’s experience could easily have taken a bad turn as much as it turned out as amazing as it did.

  2. I would have been tempted to pet him, maybe scratch his belly…very slowly & carefully.

  3. It’s amazing that something so innocent and touching would be removed but they will allow so many other atrocities. I don’t think everyone is going to run out and start cuddling with seals. I think this was a rare opportunity to see how we can co-exist with animals in a kind way.

  4. Fantastic. So many ‘what if’s and ‘should not’s but sometimes we get messages delivered by strange messengers and need just to take it in. Encounters such as these give us a encouragement to study more of the environment we know so little about. The behaviour tells us of another side of the personality of one particular individual, lending the question why? Are there more like this one? This reminds us of our own humanity. If we take the time we sometimes get the beauty. The video gives us pause from the world of survival of the fittest and everyone is part of the food chain. “it is, what it is” Sometimes we need to take it all in and accept it at face value.

  5. the video is gone once more. can anyone find it again? the discussion here has been great. i saw the video a few months ago, and was looking for it to show my husband and to send a link to some people we met at a b and b last week. i was telling them about it at breakfast, because we were staying near the coast and the sea lions barked all night. of course, i couldn’t remember, but i didn’t think this was a sea lion, but what was it — a walrus? seal just seemed too small. finally found all the links, but they went nowhere. then i found this site, and followed the drama.
    i couldn’t really do the video justice at the breakfast table, could only describe it, but in desperation, last night, i acted it out for my husband, who had to sit on the bed (don’t move!) and be the woman, and i coyly lumped around as the seal. he was in hysterics, so i hope someone can post the real thing, so he gets to see the wonder of it, and can maybe erase the image of my galluphing… i really did feel like i was channeling that elephant seal, though i also felt like a giant slug…

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. A friend of mine sent me the link but I the link was removed. So I set out on a search to find the seal video but every where I went I could not find it until now.

    I enjoyed reading your post very much and love the quote you have at the top of your page.

  7. Well, it is interesting that is should be available again. Having just been to S. GA and having seen these fantastic creatures I can’t say I would feel threatned by sitting down and seeing if one would come and cuddle. Getting down would have been easy, getting up more difficult.

  8. I should mention I saw the video from a link a friend sent me, I believe it was a yahoo link, so not sure on the status of same on THIS site. Then I wanted background on it, as yes, indeed, in the USA, the woman, if not a researcher, would be engaging in a Federal offense, merely for being that close to start with.

    I also have kinda swum with dolphins, but they were a coastal dolphin pod that passed me while I was 300 feet off of Laguna Beach, when I was doing scuba, and happened to be on the surface. What was especially eerie was the first thing we saw was a fin..(Jaws drumroll please..LOL)..then a few more fins. They passed not 30 feet away, at least two were youngsters.

  9. As a former whale watch docent(4 years) in SoCal, where we saw these many times in the water (they travel solo about), and having had many both marine biology and oceanography courses AND have 700 hours ON the ocean(or in), can I point out that this elephant seal in the very neat video, is a pup not even a year old.

  10. I received this link from a friend — as of 4/27/10 it is still working. Based on what I’ve read here, who knows how long it will be on this site? It is sweet, but like many other who posted here, I’m conflicted too. Sweet, but dangerous for the animal who might try to approach other humans in the future based on this experience.

  11. Barbara, a friend of mine sent me to your link on this story without giving me a reason. I’m so glad she did. It’s an awesome story and video. Yes mammals crave affection.

    thanks so much,
    Craig P.

    • Hi Craig: Yes, I’ve been updating my site with new links each time people are forced to take the video down. It’s been interesting to watch the process, and I’m really glad there are a handful of people who are devoted to keeping the video alive, as it has a powerful message. Thanks for your comment.

  12. This is an awesome video of how interaction with seals should be. Its about time somebody publicly interacted with a seal without it being in show business or clubbed to death. To the people who say that this female elephant seal is dangerous and aggressive you’ve misplaced your facts. I see most of you saying that the woman approached the seal and that is false. The seal approached her and she did this because she could tell the woman was friendly. The seal had probably seen people walk by many times and wished to get up close to them. Female seals are not aggressive, the males are the aggressive ones. That is just like the majority of male animal species on this planet and that is during mating season when they get territorial. Seals eat fish and squid and there has never been a recording of them eating people. And 6,000lbs! Are you stupid?! That seal is only slightly larger than the woman. There hasn’t even been a recording of a female being more than 2,210lbs and on average they grow to be 880-1,980 lbs.

  13. Hi, Maybe the cute video of Cuddling with an Elephant Seal was removed because the woman was actually in violation of being too close to this protected species. Also, judging by the size, it looks as though this elephant seal is maybe a good-sized weaner.

  14. Well I saw this incredible video…I can’t even remember how I happened upon it….and then my computer went down for an update and now I can’t find it anywhere….that woman sat very still and that elephant seal made all the moves…and the elephant seal inched his way towards her….you could tell it was curious and then after smelling her and getting closer I think the elephant seal fell in love….arching his back, bending over backwards and making silly faces and clapping his fins together at her and kissing her was very heart warming to watch ….especially with all the horrors of what man is doing to kill all these lovely creatures….just my opinion, this woman did everything right…..she let the elephant seal come over to her and sat very still…..I’m sure that experience will be forever in her memories….

  15. Quite frankly, anyone who approaches a 6,000 predator with anything but caution is a Darwinian ticking bomb. If someone watches this video and thinks “hey, that massively muscled creature with enormous teeth is really cute, I think I’ll grab it by the tail and shout BOO!” then it’s probably not a one-off in their behaviour. Yes, this woman is lucky, but it was her choice. Saying this video is encouraging such behaviour seems a bit ludicrous. That’s a massive, massive creature. It’s wild. It’s got bloody enormous teeth. What’s missing that says “DANGER” here?

    It’s also an animal, like us. And like us, it’s capable of being friendly, and of being incredibly violent. We’re really hot on the latter topic, but in a world that still casually, cruelly slaughters animals for fleeting economic gain, we could do with remembering the former every once in a while. Yes, these are potential killing machines (I’d argue we’re a hell of a lot worse, given our technological supports). So you treat them with respect. Like mountains, like cars, like the weather – like other people.

    And sometimes, these creatures let you see they’re living, breathing animals with minds of their own, animals that aren’t filled with malevolence towards anything pink. They’re not scary monsters that belong behind reinforced glass or iron bars. They’re other animals.

    Let’s not pretend they’re good, but let’s not pretend they’re evil either.

    Another case in point:


  16. I was hoping to use the elephant seal video to teach business people about boundaries. It was an elegant and touching story of a respectful encounter. I can only wish we’ll have a way to see it and share it again.

  17. I just watched the trailer for “The Cove”. And read the comments. Had no idea. NO idea. We owe it to these brave, dedicated people who risked their lives, and went thru hell to produce this film, and we certainly owe it to the dolphins, to watch this film. We need to know. We have no right to be ambivilant about their plight. We need to be pro-active, and like Ken said earlier, we need to ‘educate’ ourselves. I just checked our local video store, Blockbuster, and they have the video. We will be renting that for sure. I know it won’t be easy to watch. But, it isn’t fair to stuff our head under a pillow, and pretend nothing horrible is going on…once you know, you have a responsiblity. Pass the word on, let the world know. Make this crazy heartless killing of the incredibly intelligent and loving dolpin stop.

  18. “The Cove” is a “must see”. It is not for the weak of heart, but it is an eye opener to the tragedy these poor creatures go through at man’s expense.

  19. Ken, I appreciate your remarks. I have to admit, you have ‘started’ to educate me regarding the plight of the captured dolphins. Somehow, I missed the fact that fishermen and other people were capturing them for swim with dolphin companies. I don’t know where I thought they came from. In 1993, I was very ill, and had such a strong feeling that I needed to be near a dolphin. So, although it didn’t happen for me, I was glad it did for my daughter.
    I can’t believe I didn’t know about the dolphin-capturing. I will watch this documentary, although I know it will not be easy. We all need to know about this, and I thank you, Ken, for saying it like it is. I believe dolphins are incredible creatures (most creatures are) and I feel an affinity to them.
    Thank you for your gracious apologies. You did get me wrong. But, that’s okay, I am learning something very important from this. All of this.
    Grizzly Man? My older son recorded that video for me. My youngest, said, “Mom, you can’t watch this.” But, he did tell me what happened. (Shaking my head…) Thank you, everyone, for your posts. Thank you, Barbara, for making this possible, and especial thanks you, Ken, for helping me to educate myself. It’s a big deal. I hope others will check that documentary out, as well.
    Barbara, I have got so many notes back from people who have enjoyed the video that we have been able to see again…even if it is for a short time. It’s precious. Robin

  20. Argh. Everyone needs to watch Grizzly Man again, or for the first time. That would be good.

    As much as I can see that this is truly a wonderful experience for the woman in the video (and honestly, I envy her) there are all kinds of things that make me crazy about it.

    Here’s wildlife learning that humans aren’t dangerous/predatory. Here’s a video setting false expectations for wildlife interactions. Here’s a situation that didn’t go badly, but good lord, could have.

    Everyone needs to watch Grizzly Man again. Did I mention that?

  21. Glad to hear that Robin! Dolphins are very curious and social with humans even in the wild. Sadly this is one of the reasons that they are such easy targets for poachers, so called fishermen and people who capture them to sell to swim with dolphin companies who make a fortune on the misery of such wonderful and intelligent animals.

    My apologies if I misunderstood your post and if my subsequent post offended you in any way.

    Kind regards,


  22. @Robin and anyone else who think that swimming with captive dolphins is a “magical experience” I beg you to watch the Academy Award nominated documentary The Cove


    For each dolphin that ends up in captivity, hundreds are brutally killed. Their life in captivity is not magical for the dolphin at all. These animals should be free. I don’t mean to preach and I hope that you take the time to watch the film and educate yourselves on a very tragic situation for these beautiful creatures that we all love.


  23. I met Barbara in Australia, I´m spanish. I travelled in my honeymoon to Australia and went to see some sea lions and seals. I know that they are really really dangerous and I didn´t have contact with that kind of animals before(the bulls in spain are so dangerous too but I know them better) but If I´ll be in the place of that woman I will be really really happy, it will be wonderful. The problem is that not all the people are nice with animals and don´t respect them. if it will be full of tourist trying to touch the animals, feeding them everday, all the month, all the year… that´s the problem.

  24. My husband is enjoying this immensely at the moment, on his own computer…he never got to see it earlier. John’s a retired country vet, and sees a real cross-species empathy and understanding between the woman and the seal. It’s wonderful to see it, he says. Saw it a lot in practice, but in a wild animal like that, it is really something…but then seals are very intelligent creatures, he added. What an experience that woman had. Myself, I have always wanted to swim with the dolphins…and have never had the opportunity. Almost, but not quite, in Hawaii…(My daughter did, in the Bay of Islands in NZ,— phoned us in Vancouver, 8 hours later— she was still as high as a kite…a magical experience indeed) At the Vancouver Aquarium I know I kept a killer whale’s attention, for many minutes because it stayed near the railing while I made a certain sort of whistling sound…I felt as though I had ‘connected’. What has happened here between this woman and this seal is so precious…she had the connection with a creature that some of us could only wish for. Thank goodness, we have our pets to connect with…”If we could talk to the animals, just imagine it!” 🙂 I am sooo glad and happy to find this here, I was just about to turn the computer off. Thank you, Barbara!!!

  25. Oh my, I just came across this!!! I can’t wait to see it again! I SO hoped this ‘could’ happen, that maybe it would be re-posted…I wonder if this person found out that so many of us were left feeling bereft that it was gone…and that not only could we not see it again, but that we couldn’t share it. This is wonderful…going to look at it now…just had to write this first! Thanks, Barbara, for keeping me posted. I have certainly found the remarks over the past week very interesting…

    • Hi Robin: It’s still up, but don’t know for how long. Enjoy while you can!

  26. As an animal lover and travel photographer I don’t think that this is acceptable even though it’s quite obvious that the woman in the video obviously has the best intentions in the world. Unfortunately too many people who will see this behaviour will attempt to mimic her and it could end up in tragedy.

    I was in Jasper National Park in western Canada this August and saw a few bears however I stayed well away from them and let them be (I do not do wildlife photography and leave that to those with the skills to do so properly). However at least on 2 occasions one with a bear and one with an elk I witnessed dozens of cars pull off the side of the road and run after the animals camera in hand. Not only could both animals have killed these people easily but the traffic accidents that could have been caused could also have led to fatalities.

    Let’s leave the animals be, respecting and loving them from a distance.

  27. Do you suppose…
    ‘Ron’ is the owner of the video and reposted it just for us? And just for a short time??? That’s what I get from his 3-word message.

    • Nope. Ron just emailed me directly. He’s already received an email demanding that it be removed for copyright infringement, which I can understand if he downloaded it illegally. But the tone of the email was somewhat harsh – saying they will pursue action if necessary. And as Ron pointed out, YouTube has channels for handling this, yet the creator chose not to use them. The mystery continues. In any case, it’s up on my site for the moment – until it is be removed. I just hope as many people as possible see it before it disappears again.

  28. I was again touched by the sequence, but NOW will be most interested by responses from the wide variety of folks I sent the link to…!!

  29. And another thing…about the woman in the red jacket…
    The PETA folks would be conflicted. They would first embrace her, then kill her.

  30. I feel so gifted to have seen the original video of “How to Cuddle with an Elephant Seal”. I forwarded it to my nature loving friends only, sadly, one was able to view it before it shut down. I had it open on two of my laptop “tabs” and was able to view it at will for several days until, just now, I hit a wrong button and closed all tabs. I almost cried, to be truthful. I found that video so wholesome and good. Gave me a very good feeling.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful video, too. I do so much hope that the original video is put back on line and, again, I feel so privileged to have viewed it many times.

  31. The (very long) video struck me as a training session for women who want to get close to the world’s few remaining nice guys, who happen to be morbidly obese.

  32. I’m blown away! I’ve not yet been able to view the video, and I’m more than irked by the fear-saturated fascist-idiots who want to control every f*king thing. I certainly support withholding media clips of utterly tasteless wasteful ignorant violent destructive murderous military patriotic trash, but when Satan, the government and the lawyers have so infiltrated people’s minds with lies and fear that they create excuses for depriving people of clips which convey energy and actions of shared love and beauty, that is unconscionable; that is the influence of Satan at work.

    And, for clarity’s sake, I do understand the validity of concerns about contaminating the natural, healthfully balanced physical/mental/behavioral environs of the animals. And I trust that sanity and reason and compassion will prevail, that the video will be posted again *with the advisory against making advances toward such animals in the wild so as not to disrupt their natural health and peace.*
    This potent, lovely lesson and demonstration of the *original* and natural loving interaction between humans and animals yet uncorrupted by modern “civilization’s” selfishness/ignorance/fear/insanity is too precious to withhold, and if I, too, were an ignorant fear-saturated servant of Satan, then I, too would want to deny lovers of beauty and truth the opportunity to view this video.
    How many people are going to take a seal-cuddling cruise down toward Antarctica after seeing a video, anyway?! Please DO prevent that from occurring, but don’t f*k with our accessibility to media offering the educational images of wholeness and deeply healing energies of which we are so sorely in need.

  33. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing this information. I too, had seen this video the other day (the 12th) and had forwarded it on to some of my family and friends. Those that picked up the message right away were the lucky ones, those that waited missed out on witnessing this truly awesome and touching encounter. It was an incredible few moments of filming, and one that I wish I could return to on a regular basis—-especially on those days when I need a “pick-me-up”. But at least I do have the memory, and that is better than not. Thank you for sharing your footage of the elephant seal and penguins. Those pics, too, were very beautiful.

  34. I watched “how to cuddle with an elephant seal” yesterday morning and was deeply moved by it. One of the most touching, heart-warming and beautiful things I have ever witnessed. Am so grateful that I stumbled upon it, just wish I could’ve shared it before it was removed. Seems to me that often times those that get the most worked up about human interaction with wild animals are the ones that are terrified of wild animals. They don’t have the serenity to be in the moment, fear rules out common sense. Hopefully this video will appear again (maybe if warnings are posted prior to and afterwards – do not try this at home!) so that more people can share in that lucky lady’s experience.

  35. I am so saddened by the ‘disappearance’ of this video. Words cannot describe how touched I was to see it (for the first time yesterday!). I attempted to share it with friends & family and discovered it had been removed. No way to contact the film-maker to ask why? I hold out hope that we might see it again. But, like you, I am so happy I had the chance to see it for the brief time it was available 🙂

  36. I’ve had two “close” encounters with wild animals of this kind – both very treasured and both initiated by the animals. One was a penguin who walked up to me from a distance of 10 metres away and stood less than 15 cms away and picked at my trousers for a few minutes, the other a baby gorilla who climbed on me. In both cases I stood stoney still and let the wild animal explore. I followed all the guidelines as to appropriate distances etc and feel strongly that animals should be allowed to make such approaches and that there was no increased risk to the penguin or gorilla (indeed both Mum and the silverback were watching so they were fine with it too) from the experience. I guess the risks of such videos is that people will approach the animals but in these remote locations, the guidelines are generally strongly enforced and the people there want to enjoy the wildlife experience with conservation in mind. A thought provoking article. I only wished that I’d seen the original video.

  37. Thank you Barbara Weibel for posting both videos. I just went to see the second one you posted, and it is also wonderful. Since I cannot share the “how to cuddle with an elephant seal” video with my friends, I will share the second one you posted. When I couldn’t find the original video, I googled “cuddle with an elephant seal,” and I found your posting. Thank you so much for sharing with more than your friends.

  38. I was sent the original video on Thursday afternoon and viewed it yesterday. I tried to send it to a friend this morning, and when I went to view it again, I saw it had been removed. It is clear the woman in the video had allowed the elephant seal to approach her; she had not tried to intrude on its space. The video was beautiful, and if criticism of the woman’s actions or the posting of the video caused it to be removed, then the necessity some feel to be critical has caused something beautiful to be taken away from all of us who love to see the acceptance and affection of other species.

  39. Sweetest, most heartwarming thing I have ever seen…I just went to look at it again, and it was gone. Such a special moment in time, and I will be forever grateful to have been able to witness this…the great affection of another creature, this elephant seal, to human being. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing this. It was a thing of beauty. And touched my heart, greatly. I hope I get to see this video sometime again, in my lifetime.

    • Robin: I was curious over your comment and so tried to view the video yself and found the owner has not only removed the video, but has closed the YouTube account. Makes me wonder if perhaps there was so much controversy over the clip that she was forced to take it down, or if the tour company threatened her, or what. Wish I knew. I’ll post another video instead so people can at least see how friendly these critters are. Thanks for letting me know.

  40. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  41. This is a beautiful video, Barbara. However, I’m conflicted about it. For one person to have this experience is fine. But if the video encourages too many people to do the same thing, someone will eventually get hurt and the elephant seals will be blamed.

    Thanks for sharing. It brought a smile to my face.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *