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Pinnipednesday - Arctocephalus townsendi Edition

I'm lucky to be able to write about this one, folks, and you're lucky to be able to read about it.

The Guadalupe Fur Seal (Arctocephalus townsendi) was much sought-after for its beautiful fur, which nearly led to its extinction in the late 1800s. It was believed to be extinct, actually, until an extremely small population of just 14 individuals was re-discovered in 1954. Although it has made an amazing recovery, it remains one of the rarest fur seals to this day.


Guadalupe Fur Seals are more obviously different in appearance from other kinds of fur seals, most notably for its delicate, narrow snout. Adult males are dark in color, gray-brown to gray-black, while females are a little paler, and usually have lighter gray patches on their heads, necks and chests. Males can grow to a little over 6 feet (1.9 meters) in body length, weighing up to 374 pounds (170 kg). Females are smaller, reaching total body lengths of about 4.6 feet (1.4 meters) and weighing only 121 pounds (55 kg).

While once they had a much wider range, Guadalupe Fur Seals can only be found on Isla de Guadalupe and Islas San Benito, with the expansion to San Benito only as recent as 2006 and 2007. Outside of the breeding season they can be spotted as far north as the Gulf of California, but all of the breeding remains in Guadalupe and San Benito. Guadalupe Fur Seals specialize in hunting squid, for which they will dive to depths of around 165 feet (50 meters). They will also eat certain kinds of fish, although the bulk of their diet (95%) is squid.


The volcanic grottos and caves of the islands provide the ideal habitat for the breeding season of Guadalupe Fur Seals, which takes place from June to August. Males are territorial, trying to gather as many females as possible into their own harems and fiercely defending their territory (and right to breed) from other males. As with other pinniped species, breeding season coincides with pupping season, and females will be ready to mate again about a week after giving birth. The pups will not be fully weaned until they are almost a year old, but their mothers will go out to sea to feed for almost two weeks at a time, then come back to spend a week nursing their pups.


Guadalupe Fur Seals are still considered to be near threatened by the IUCN, and they still suffer from the El Nino effect like other pinnipeds. Juveniles in particular are at great risk of death by drowning, becoming entangled in set fishing nets and marine garbage. Isla de Guadalupe is considered to be a sanctuary for these seals, and they are also protected in Californian coasts and waters. But seeing as they were believed to be gone forever only 60 years ago, it's nice to see such a dramatic improvement in their circumstances.


Source for all images used in this post.

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