During the November to January breeding season, nearly 4 million Antarctic fur seals crowd the cobble beaches of Antarctica, but 100 years ago the species was nearly extinct. Clothing made from the pelts of fur seals was highly fashionable in the United States and United Kingdom, and this fashion trend spurred fur traders to hunt as many seals as they possibly could. After years of overhunting, the fur industry nearly wiped every last Antarctic fur seal out. After years of careful protection the fur seal population rebounded, and today the species is no longer endangered.
What is unique about fur seals?
There are many different kinds of seals in the world. There are fur seals, elephant seals, Weddell seals the list goes on and on! However, fur seals are unique for a couple reasons. First of all, they are the smallest seal species on the planet. Adult males can grow to over six feet in length, and weigh more than 400 lbs. Adult females rarely grow longer than four feet or weigh more than 90 lbs. By comparison, an adult elephant seal might weigh 8,000 pounds!
Aside from their smaller size, fur seals also are unique in the way that they keep warm in the frigid Antarctic environment. Most seals have an insulating layer of blubber that keeps them warm. Fur seals don’t have a layer of blubber though. Their thick coat of fur keeps them warm whether they are in or out of the water.
What do Antarctic fur seals eat?
Otherwise, the Antarctic fur seal is very similar to other seal species. Like all seals, the fur seal is carnivorous, and hunts by diving underwater to look for prey. Fur seals typically dive 30-40 feet deep, and stay submerged for a few minutes. However, a fur seal can dive hundreds of feet deep, and stay submerged for over ten minutes! Also like other seals, the fur seal has excellent eyesight, hearing and very sensitive whiskers, all three of which help them hunt for krill, fish, and squid.