National Geographic : 2009 Dec
• Lolling in a glacier-fed river (above) or keeping cool under a flipperful of sand (right), southern elephant seals can be mellow, like these two bulls. But photographer Paul Nicklen was attacked while snorkeling off a breeding beach. "One tried to crush me," he says of a four-ton male. Using the housing of his underwater camera as a shield, he managed to escape with only sprained wrists. Two centuries ago, such encounters were almost always fatal---for the seal---but no longer. Once a killing ground, South Georgia is now a sanctuary.