Funday Times


Animal Families

Unlike others seals that appear clumsy on land, fur seals can actually ‘walk’ on all fours. These, the smallest of the seal clan, are closely related to dogs and sea lions. They have sharp little teeth, long whiskers and a cosy, thick fur coat that keeps them warm.

The last comes in particularly handy, because unlike other fur seals they don’t have a nice layer of blubber to keep them warm. With 300,000 soft, gleaming hairs per square inch of skin, their lush coat gives them a glamorous air. When the first Europeans saw them they were so impressed by the animals that they dubbed these seals ‘sea bears.’

The name fur seal itself is actually an umbrella term for eight different species, including Guadalupe fur seal of Baja California, the South African fur seal, the South American fur seal, and the Australian fur seal. Wherever they’re from, as you can see they’re absolutely adorable, and there’s nothing cuter than a fur seal pup. Pups are born with a black pelt, which will later turn a dark brown.

Fur on the chest and belly tends to be lighter and as males age, they develop grey hair on their backs. Loud and domineering, the male seals are much larger than the females, even at birth.

When it comes to fur seals, breeding season is a noisy time. Seals are social animals that love to hang out together and it’s no different when they’re getting ready to have babies. They gather in very large numbers in places called ‘rookeries’ and end up covering entire stretches of coastline in a pile of warm, furry bodies. Dominating everyone around them are the powerful males, known as bulls. A single bull may keep a herd of over forty females all to himself.

He keeps a watchful eye on his females, and will not let them wander off his territory or allow another bull to encroach on his space. He’s a fighter and he makes his presence felt with a great deal of unruly
roaring, growling and honking.

Female fur seals, or cows, give birth during this breeding season. To keep things going, they’re
actually ready to mate within a few days after the birth. Their long pregnancy lasts nearly a year – they’ll be ready to deliver again just in time for next year’s breeding season. During this time they alternate between going to sea and staying on land to feed their pups.

Pups are weaned after about four months on this cycle. As you can imagine, being around so many
excited adults isn’t the safest place for a pup. A large number of seal pups will die before they can become adults.

Adult males can weigh up to 200 kg, adult females weigh about 40 kg, and pups weigh between 3 – 7 kg at birth. Being so tiny and vulnerable, pups are sometimes crushed by overexcited adults around them. But the real threats are human beings. We’ve hunted species like the large northern fur seal, found in

chilly northern waters, into near extinction. Though there are laws that protect them now, seals are among the animals affected by indiscriminate fishing and global warming. Today, if you’d like to really get to know a seal, you must see them underwater. They’re incredibly fast and flexible and though they breathe air, they can spend over an hour underwater without taking a breath. They love to feast on fish, squid, birds, and tiny shrimp-like krill.

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