Fur Seal

South African Fur Seal

These fur seals are a subspecies of the Cape fur seal. Another subspecies, called the Australian fur seal, lives around the coast of southern Australia. This fur seal is slightly larger, but the two subgroups are otherwise very similar.

South African fur seals spend most of the year at sea. They rarely venture very far from the land, however, generally staying within 160 km (100 miles) of the coast. The fur seals’ main foods are free-swimming aquatic animals such as fish and squid. The seals dive to depths of about 40 m (130 ft) to find food and stay underwater for about 2 minutes. (Their Australian relatives must dive a great deal deeper and for longer to find their food.) South African fur seals also prey on animals living on the bottom of shallow coastal waters, including crabs and other crustaceans.

Male South African fur seals are twice the size of the females. They are also grey-black in colour, while the females are browner. Males also have a thick mane that helps their necks to look larger and more powerful and also acts as protection during fights.

In spring, the males arrive on rocky islands and coastlines around southern Africa, where they set up territories. A few days later, the pregnant female seals arrive at the shore and choose a place on the beach to give birth. About a week after the calves are born, the males mate with the females in their territory. The products of these matings are born the following year.

Distribution: Coastline of southern Africa and Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Habitat: Breeding colonies form on rocky islands and coastlines.

Food: Fish, squid and crabs.

Size: 1.8 - 2.3 m (6 - 7.5 ft); 120 - 360 kg (264 - 794 lb).

Maturity: 3 - 6 years.

Breeding: Mating season in October. Gestation lasts just under one year.

Life span: 20 years.

Status: Common.

South American Fur Seal

This species of fur seal is found on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America. Its range extends as far north as the rocky shores of Peru on the western side, and to Brazil in the east. It prefers steep shorelines, where boulders provide plenty of shade from the hot sun. The South American fur seal usually has deep reddish-brown underfur, the male has a coarse mane.

South American fur seals feed on a range of fish, from anchovies to mackerel. They are known to swim up to 200 km (125 miles) from the coast to find shoals on which to prey. In shallow waters, mainly near to land, these seals will also feed on crustaceans and bottom-living molluscs, including octopus and shellfish. South American fur seals are themselves preyed on by great white sharks and orcas out at sea, as well as by South American sea lions nearer the shore.

Male South American fur seals are much larger than the females. Once they reach adulthood, the males have black fur and a golden mane. The females and younger males are greyer. The pups are dark grey or black when born.

Mating takes place in spring. These fur seals are extremely territorial in the breeding season. Males take up their territories in November, competing for the prime spots and rigorously enforcing boundaries, since those with the best and largest sites mate with the most females. Males are joined 2 weeks later by the females, who give birth to their young within a few days. The female remains with her pup for up to 12 days, during which period she mates with the male whose territory she is in, then goes to sea to feed, returning at intervals to suckle the pup. The males rarely leave their territories until all the mating is over.

Distribution: South Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, from southern Peru in the west round to southern Brazil in the east.

Habitat: Rocky shores and islands. Breeds on coasts and islands.

Food: Fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, bivalve molluscs, and gastropods.

Size: 1.4 - 1.9 m (4.5 - 6.25 ft); 30 - 200 kg (66 - 440 lb).

Maturity: 3 - 7 years.

Breeding: Single pup born in summer, usually in November or December.

Life span: 30 years.

Status: Lower risk.

Galapagos Fur Seal

Size: 1.3 - 1.5 m (4.25 - 5 ft); 30 - 70 kg (66 - 155 lb).

This vulnerable species is found only around the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Galapagos fur seals stay close to the islands, and never dive below about 30 m (100 ft). They spend over a quarter of each day on land - more than any other eared seal (fur seal or sea lion). Their diet consists mainly of fish and squid.