The antarctic fur seal is a relatively small seal that, by its name, obviously lives in and around Antarctica. These animals are normally gray or brown in color, with undersides that are cream and occasional shades of red or brown. Male Antarctic fur seals are typically darker in color than the females. As can be seen in the picture above, the flippers are darker than the rest of the body. The stiff, white whiskers near this seal’s nose are called vibrissae can grow to the length of 18 inches (50 cm) on adult males! Antarctic fur seals are one of nine species of fur seals. All fur seals are in a Sub-family which contains two Orders. Both orders contain only fur seals. This species is also sometimes called the Kerguelen fur seal, after an island they inhabit.
Males are much larger than females. Adult males can grow to 6.5 feet (2 m) long, while the females’ maximum is about 4.6 feet (1.4 m). Although the length difference is large, the weight difference is even larger. Males weigh from 242 to 507 pounds (110-230 kg). Adult females are as small as 48 pounds (22 kg) and their heaviest is only 112 pounds (51 kg). If you do the math, you can tell that males weigh about five times more than the females!
The main food of the Antarctic seal is krill. These animals also consume squid, fish, crustaceans, and even birds, such as penguins and seabirds. Nursing mothers are almost completely dependent on krill, so the health of Antarctic fur seal babies depends heavily on the availability of krill in the area. Individuals feed mainly at night in shallow ocean waters. Males can dive as deep as 656 feet (200 m), while females normally stay within 196 feet (60 m) of the surface.
Antarctic fur seals are found on islands south and slightly north of the place where the cold Antarctic waters meet warmer waters. Almost 95 percent of these animals spend their breeding season on the South Georgia Islands. Other colonies are found on South Shetland, South Orkney, and the South Sandwhich islands, among others. Although the name of this animal suggests it lives in Antarctica, they are rarely seen on this continent, and usually only live in the islands around Antarctica. They have occasionally been found as far north as the southern tips of South America and Australia.
Status and threats
The Antarctic fur seal is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Redlist. Despite being so common today, these mammals were hunted almost to the point of extinction during the 1700s and 1800s. This was mainly due to the commercial sealing (hunting of seals) during this era. When these seals were at their lowest population, only a few colonies existed, and inbreeding occurred. This caused genetic diversity to be reduced, making this animal more susceptible to disease outbreaks. Although the Antarctic fur seal is no longer at risk of extinction, there are a number of threats to this animal that still exist. First of all, some individuals get entangled in discarded fishing nets and fishing lines. This may prevent them from going to the surface to breathe. Tourism also causes a disturbance to common breeding sights.
Antarctic fur seals are extremely territorial. Males establish their territory at a breeding colony in late October. Any male that attempts to take over another male’s territory is met chased of with loud vocalizations and with biting. These fights lead to a sort of hierarchy in which the larger, stronger males get prime territory closer to the shore. Males always return to the same breeding ground each year, and also keep the same territory annually. Holding territory is costly for males as they do not eat at all during this season. They may lose up to 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) of body weight each day. Each male has one or multiple females that associate with him and mate with him. The number of females per male averages 15, but it ranges from 1 to 27. One to two days after arriving at the breeding territory, the female gives birth to her pup from the last breeding season. About a week after giving birth, she will mate again with the same male. She will not give birth again until the next breeding season.
Females give birth to usually one pup after a gestation period of just short of a year. Newborns are about two feet (60 cm) in length, and they weigh from 13 to 15 pounds (6-7 kg). Unlike the males, females to feed during the breeding season. While they are eating, the pups interact with each other. When the females return from their feeding trips, which average five days in length, they use vocal noises to find their pup. They then give milk to their young for two days before the female goes back to feed again. The young feed off of their mother’s milk until they are around four months old. By early January, at which time the pups are about two months old, the young start venturing into the water. They cannot swim well, however, until about two months later. Females are ready to mate at three to four years of age, but to the extreme energy required to keep territory, males to not breed until they are around eight years old. The average lifespan for these anmals in the wild is 25 years.
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- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
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