These incredible photos provide an astonishing glimpse into the lives of majestic elephant seals in the Antarctic Peninsula.
Wildlife photographer Justin Hofman captured incredible images at Gold Harbor in South Georgia, defying the wrath of powerful and ferocious creatures to get close-up shots.
One of the photos captures a giant elephant seal seemingly laughing at his possessions while surfing after managing to acquire a harem of 30 females – all of his own.
The battle-scarred giant even seems to smirk as he meets one of his mates while still seeing his now love-lorn rivals.
Mr Hofman said: ‘They always make some funny noises. So to have a smiling elephant seal makes sense – they actually make ridiculous noises. ‘
Justin, from California, spent hours photographing the massive male defending his 30-powerful female harem from opponents – including two smaller males working as a team to take him on.
He said one would distract the bull in a fierce fight while the other would sneak in and mate with a female on the periphery of the harem, possibly as strong as 100.
However, with some elephant seals measuring up to 15ft in length and 10,000lb in weight, the fi.g.hts are no laughing matter and ‘always end in bloodshed’.
Mr Hofman, from California, said: ‘When they backed up to fi.g.t, they lifted about two-thirds of their bodies straight up, making them stand nearly 3m tall.
‘They hit each other with great force, and their weight, combined with their very sturdy teeth, deals damage almost all the time.
‘It’s not uncommon for you to walk around a beach and see lots of males with blood running down their faces and chests.’
The wildlife photographer was able to get close-ups of these males because many of the males were too tired to compete with him.
“When they’re not fi.gh.ting, you can stand within arm’s reach of them, just sitting there watching them breathe, look at their scars and be in awe of their size,” he said. “But when they get up and start squealing, you know it’s time to step back.”
There are two types of elephant seals, the southern elephant seals and the smaller northern version. It is named after the male’s snout, which resembles the trunk of an elephant.
Large beasts can be 16ft long and weigh over 6,000lbs, smaller females are typically around 10ft long and weigh around 2,000lbs.
They can hold their breath longer than any other crustacean, staying underwater without air for up to two hours. Elephant seals spend most of their lives at sea and only return to land to mate.
They were nearly hu.n.ted to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries but since then the population is estimated to have recovered to around 700,000 members.