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Galapagos Fur Seal Facts | Galapagos Wildlife Guide

You will see endemic Galapagos fur seals less frequently than Galapagos sea lions, which they resemble only superficially. Upon closer inspection, fur seals look quite different from sea lions.

Physical Characteristics

  • They are smaller than sea lions, but their front flippers are larger
  • Their heads are small, short and shaped similar to a bear’s head, and their ears are more prominent than a sea lion’s
  • Their coat is dense and luxuriant, consisting of two layers of hair that vary from dark brown to gray
  • Male hair is longer from its head through its shoulders
  • Males can grow up to 5 feet in length

 

Range and Habitat

Galapagos fur seals are endemic to the islands, and they do not migrate. However, they are widely distributed, occurring mostly on the western islands. Isabela and Fernandina islands have the largest populations. They prefer to live between large boulders or rocky areas where they can find protection from the sun.

Behavior and Communication

Fur seals and sea lions share many similar mating and social behaviors. One main difference is that male fur seals tend to defend territory from the land, while male sea lions defend from the water. The males are particularly aggressive, and the death rate for fighting males can be up to 30 percent annually.

Fur seals spend a large amount of their time foraging in water. Females can dive for up to 17 hours or longer, mainly at night. Night dive lengths change according to moon phases: during a new moon, dives may last 50 to 70 hours, and during a full moon, dives may last only 10 hours.

Feeding Habits

Fur seals feed on cephalopods such as small squid as well as a variety of fish that are only up to 50 feet below the sea’s surface. Males do not feed while they are defending their territories. They will only feed when their energy stores are used up, forcing them to abandon the fight and return to the water.

Breeding and Reproduction

Females become sexually mature at age 5, and they will produce a maximum of five pups in their lifetimes. Males mature sexually between ages 7 and 10. The breeding season lasts from mid-August through mid-November, during the cooler months. Gestation lasts up to one year. However, there is delayed implantation, which means the actual development of the embryo is probably less than one year.

Pups are nursed up to three years. During this time, the mother has most likely given birth to another offspring. If the second pup is born is born within one year of the first, it has a 50 percent chance of survival. In fact, the first pup may actually kill the second because of stress due to lack of food resources or starvation.

Conservation

Their thick fur attracted the attention of hunters who decimated the population in the 1800s in pursuit of their valuable pelts. In fact, by the early 1900s, fur seals were thought to be extinct. Because of their thick fur, these animals hunt at night and spend the hottest part of day hiding out in cool caves. This secretive behavior helped the species survive the sealers’ depredations. Today, fur seals are fully protected, and the population has completely recovered; there are currently almost as many fur seals as sea lions, but the seals' more elusive habits explain why visitors see them less often. 

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