I have spent an embarrassing amount of time over the last 24 hours thinking about this and it may be an unpopular opinion, but Vah Ruta should not have been an elephant and here's why:
First of all, let's state the obvious: Why would an elephant, a land animal prominent in either Savannah or jungle regions, be the guardian of a tribe of people who thrive in water? The rest of the Divine Beasts make sense. Naboris is a camel because it's in the desert. Medoh is the guardian to the Rito, a tribe of birds. A case could even be made for Rudania, since lizards such as iguanas can be found in volcanic regions (e.g. the Galapagos islands). But an elephant in a realm that is mostly water just doesn't really click with me.
In my opinion, Vah Ruta should have been a sea-dwelling animal. To be more specific, I think a whale would have been perfect.
This would work because: – The excessive water could spout from its blowhole. – Vah Ruta has to go underwater in parts of Zora's Domain, especially to get to its resting spot.
– A whale would actually be in line with the Zora who are a variety of sharks, rays, etc. – Instead of the trunk mechanic, the whale could move either its tail or entire body up and down to achieve a similar effect. – Since whales are often found in colder waters (not always, but often enough) this would have made the ice blocks make more sense. – Whale noises. Majestic af.
Now here are some counter-arguments: – A whale can't go on land. – Where would the laser beam shoot from?
In the cutscene for Vah Ruta leaving the East Reservoir, it goes underwater, and then appears to hover or rise out of the water. It certainly doesn't appear to walk from the lake to the mountain. If this is a case, there's no reason why a whale couldn't do the same. Maybe there could have been a lake or pond for it to rest in at the top.
In terms of design, Whale Ruta could have been designed as a Right Whale or a Bowhead whale. The laser could shoot from its mouth like so. I know what you're thinking: what a tremendously derpy looking animal. Well, it wouldn't be the first time that a Zelda game has incorporated a whale with a similar appearance. Levias in Skyward Sword looked much like this.
It's possible that because of Levias, a whale wouldn't have been an option. It's evident that this game is a fresh approach on the Zelda series so incorporating a whale in two consecutive games could be repetitive. This is a remote possibility. While the mechanic works nicely as an elephant and Ruta's dungeon as a whole is pretty good, I just can't get over the design. It's just…weird?
This is all personal opinion. I'm just bothered that an elephant is the guardian of the Zora. It could have been any other ocean animal too. What do you think?
Props to my friend Greg for helping form this theory.