I told you I had something special planned! This is the first installment on my series about Pinnipeds, the fun-loving fin-footed semi-aquatic marine mammals. Like my Caturday, Wednesday Woof and Wednesday Hyena series, I will be writing about Pinnipeds in alphabetical order by common name. I hope you all enjoy it. I'm looking forward to learning!

The Antarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus gazella) is one of eight fur seal species, which belong to the genus Arctocephalus. It is also known as the Kerguelen Fur Seal, because the first specimen was taken from there by the German naval vessel SMS Gazelle, which is also acknowledged in its scientific name. As their name suggests, they can be found in the Southern Hemisphere. Fur seals are distinguished from other types of seals by some specific characteristics, which include external ears and their ability to use their front flippers to prop themselves into a "standing" position.

Antarctic Fur Seals are sizable animals, with adult males growing to be significantly larger than adult females. Males can weigh up to 474 pounds (215 kg) and grow up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) in body length. Females, however, outlive males by an average of ten years - the average lifespan of male Antarctic Fur Seals is 15 years, while females will live an average of 25 years. Most adults are dark brown in color, but a blond coat variation occurs in about 1 in 1,000 seals.

Antarctic Fur Seals feed primarily on krill, of which the average seal will eat about a ton every year. They will also catch and eat fish and squid. Krill, however, are hugely important in the diet of nursing mothers, which means that a healthy krill population around the breeding sites (Island of South Georgia and others) is essential to the health of the Antarctic Fur Seal population.

The mating system of Antarctic Fur Seals is polygynous, which means that a successful dominant male will mate with about 20 females during the breeding season. After a 12-month gestation period, female Antarctic Fur Seals will give birth to a single pup, and then after about 10 days will mate again with the dominant male. Males are incredibly aggressive during the mating/birthing season, and will put on displays of physical strength and vocalizations to defend their territory and eligible females. It's not uncommon for the bulls to fight to the death during this time, and in order to maintain their claims they will fast for up to eight weeks. Fasting means that they will lose approximately 3 pounds (1.5 kg) of body mass each day.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Antarctic Fur Seals were heavily hunted for their pelts, to the point where they were considered "commercially extinct" by the 20th century. A small breeding population on Bird Island is the only reason the species survived to this day, expanding the dwindling population rapidly within 100 years. The Antarctic Fur Seal is still under protection by South Africa, Australia and France, who govern the waters in which it resides.

Advertisement