Australia’s Macquarie Island is a magnet for more than 50,000 elephant seals each spring.

Story Andrew Bain  Photo Andrea Turbett

On a small island midway between Tasmania and Antarctica, Paul Black is expecting visitors. Each spring, more than 50,000 southern elephant seals haul out of the Southern Ocean to breed on Macquarie Island, transforming the World Heritage-listed subantarctic island into a bickering and bellowing wonder.

It’s no ordinary scene, for these are the world’s largest seals, with bulls weighing up to 4 tonnes. Fights among the largest bulls – the so-called ‘beachmasters’ – for control of harems are common and bloody. These harems might be as large as 600 cows, filling the beaches and the isthmus near the island’s northern tip.

“When I was here last time, I did quite a bit of work with the tourist ships that come in,” says Paul, the island’s ranger in charge. “There was a South African fella I was chatting with, and he described it as one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles. He said, ‘I should know because I run a wildlife park in South Africa, where we have large migrations of large mammals, but they’re mostly at a distance. To be so immersed in this here is an incredible experience.’”

This story excerpt is from Issue #151

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2023