Antarctic Fur Seal

Once hunted nearly into extinction, these pointy-eared polar swimmers are the comeback queens and kings of the Antarctic

Antarctic Peninsula

Name: Antarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus gazella)

Length: 2 metres.

Weight: 90 to 215 kg, males being larger.

Location: Antarctic Fur Seals are widely distributed in the Southern Ocean near the Antarctic Convergence. Most of the population breeds on South Georgia but also on other sub-Antarctic islands.

Conservation status: Least Concern.

Diet: Krill, squid, fish, penguins.

Appearance: Antarctic Fur seals are usually brown in coloration with a slightly more light brown or grey tone in newly molted juveniles and females. They are in the family of Otariidae or Eared Seals and hence have visible ears.

How do Antarctic Fur Seals feed?

Krill makes up about 95% of an Antarctic Fur Seal’s diet. They’ll eat about a ton of krill a year. The deepest known dive of an Antarctic Fur Seal sits at 180 metres, the longest dive lasting about 10 minutes. The average foraging dive lasts about 4 minutes at goes to a depth of about 30 metres.

Are Antarctic Fur Seals social?

Antarctic Fur Seals are generally a solo act outside of mating season although they can congregate in vast numbers on beaches near good feeding grounds in the autumn and early winter.

How fast do Antarctic Fur Seals move?

Antarctic Fur Seals can reach speeds of up to 20km per hour on land. They can reach higher speeds while swimming.

What are Antarctic Fur Seal birthing rituals like?

Breeding season begins in late October through December. Males will fight each other for the right to rule harems of up to 20 females (the rare harem can go up to 100 females). The fights can be extremely aggressive, and some encounters result in deaths. Once they’ve established a harem males are unwilling to leave them unprotected and will stay on land up to 2 months without feeding. When the females arrive they are already pregnant from the previous year’s season, and give birth in November or December. The females mate about a week after giving birth. The pups are nursed by their mothers for about 4 months. Once they’ve learned to swim they will usually stay at sea a number of years until they reach sexual maturity, at which point they’ll finally return to land to join the others in the mating season.

How long do Antarctic Fur Seals live?

Antarctic Fur Seal Males tend to live about 15 years, while females live to about 25 years on average.

How many Antarctic Fur Seals are there today?

There are only very rough estimates of the Antarctic Fur Seal population due to the fact that they spend so much of their time out at sea. The best guesses place the population at somewhere over 2,000,000 to 4,000,000.

Do Antarctic Fur Seals have any natural predators?

Antarctic Fur Seals are hunted by Sharks, Killer Whales, and the pups are vulnerable to Leopard Seals.

7 Attractive Antarctic Fur Seal Facts

  • Antarctic Fur Seals got their scientific name gazella from the German vessel SMS Gazelle which was the first to collect the Seal from Kerguelen Island.
  • Unlike some other species of Seals Antarctic Fur Seal have visible ears. It is the only Seal with visible ears that lives in the Antarctic.
  • The area that Antarctic Fur Seals live in is referred to as the “Antarctic Convergence” - a zone of water between the frigid waters of the true Antarctic and the more temperate waters to the north. The area is rich in krill – a major source of nutrients for a wide array of marine life.
  • The population of Antarctic Fur Seals on South Georgia Island is the densest marine animal population on the planet.
  • Antarctic Fur Seals are one type of nine species of Fur Seals that exist worldwide. They were almost hunted to extinction for their fur (hence the name “Fur Seals”). The near extinction of another animal – baleen whales – may be the main reason the diminutive Antarctic Fur Seal population bounced back, because there was a huge reduction in competition for krill.  
  • Antarctic Fur Seals are an example of Seals that can walk on land, thanks to their ability to turn their rear flippers forward, turning them into useful “feet.”
  • At the turn into the 20th Century only a few hundred Antarctic Fur Seals were found on South Georgia Island due to excessive hunting. Now the species numbers in the hundreds of thousands if not millions during the breeding period.

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