Although once hunted by humans, southern elephant seals were never near extinction like northern elephant seals. This is largely because most of the breeding grounds of M. leonina were out of reach of hunting boats. Hunting did have some impact, but numbers have recovered since hunting has ceased. Some populations are are experiencing declines. This may be normal population fluctuations, however.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern