Appearance: like sea lions, they are characterised by having external ears; long front flippers; the ability to walk on all fours; short, thick fur; and a big chest and belly.
Size: their size ranges by species, with the smallest being the Galapagos fur seal which weighs around 64 kg and reaching 1.5 metres long, and the largest being the New Zealand fur seal which weighs up to 180 kg and measures 2.5 metres long. Males are much larger than females.
Diet: fur seals feed on fish, squid, and krill, with some species also taking birds and penguins. They tend to feed and dive in shallower waters at night, when their prey is typically swimming near the surface.
Did you know: with a population of up to 7.5 million Antarctic (or southern) fur seals, South Georgia is home to 95% of the world’s population. Although it wasn’t always this way. James Cook first visited South Georgia in 1775 and reported there were a large number of seals. This led to sealers setting sail to the islands to harvest their fur which was made into coats. Less than fifty years later they were thought to be extinct due to the years of intensive culling.
As the focus of the Antarctic economy shifted to whaling, this left more food (krill) for the fur seals. And in 1931 a small colony of just a few hundred seals was found on Bird Island (off the coast of South Georgia). By the end of the 1950s the population reached 5,000, by 1976 it was 100,000, and in 1993 it was 1.5 million. With the population now reaching up to 7 million, the story of the Antarctic fur seal is one of nature’s most dramatic and astounding comebacks.
Location: fur seals spend most of their lives in subpolar, temperate, and equatorial waters. Colonies are found throughout the Pacific and Southern Oceans from south Australia, Africa, and New Zealand, to the coast of Peru and north to California.
Where to see fur seals
According to reports submitted to WildSide, you can see fur seals in the following places:
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Photo credit: Holgi under a Creative Commons licence from Pixabay