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1200px-Galapagos Fur Seal, Santiago Island

Galopagos Fur Seal

Fur seals
 are any of nine species of pinnipeds belonging to the Arctocephalinae subfamily in the Otariidae family. They are much more closely related to sea lions than true seals, and share with them external ears (pinnae), relatively long and muscular foreflippers, and the ability to walk on all fours. They are marked by their dense underfur, which made them a long-time object of commercial hunting. Eight species belong to the Arctocephalusgenus and are found primarily in the Southern Hemisphere, while one ninth species also sometimes called fur seal, the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus), belongs to a different genus and inhabits the North Pacific.

Different Fur Seal Species Edit

The large northern fur seal, found in chilly northern waters, was hunted to near extinction during the 19th century. These animals were protected by law in 1911, and populations later rebounded to 1.3 million animals. There are eight species of southern fur seals, all smaller than their northern relative. They include the Guadalupe fur seal of Baja California, the brown fur seal of southern Africa and Australia, and the South American fur seal.

Senses and Behavior Edit

Fur seals have sharp eyesight and keen hearing. They have small ears, unlike the earless or hair seals. Although they breathe air, seals are most at home in the water and may stay at sea for weeks at a time eating fish, squid, birds, and tiny shrimp-like krill. Fur seals may swim by themselves or gather in small groups.

The remainder of the year, fur seals lead a largely pelagic existence in the open sea, pursuing their prey wherever it is abundant. Fur seals feed on moderately sized fish, squid, and krill. Several species of the southern fur seal also have sea birds, especially penguins, as part of their diets. The fur seals, in turn, are preyed upon by sharks, killer whales, and occasionally by larger sea lions.

When fur seals were hunted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they hauled out on remote islands where no predators were present. The hunters reported being able to club the unwary animals to death one after another, making the hunt profitable, though the price per seal skin was low.

Breeding Season Edit

When breeding season arrives, however, these social animals gather on shore in very large numbers. Powerful males, known as bulls, establish territories and gather harems of up to 40 females, battling their rivals to establish dominance. During this season, coastlines are filled with roaring, growling, honking seals.

Female fur seals, or cows, give birth during this breeding season, then mate again just a few days later. The following year they will return to give birth to a single pup after a nearly yearlong pregnancy, and mate once again to continue the cycle. Many fur seal populations have not rebounded from extensive hunting, and now face additional threats from climate change and overfishing, which can limit their prey.

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