Fascinating facts about a fur seal

Picture of a mother and baby antarctic fur seal.

Fascinating characteristics

Fur seals like to play.

They will slide along the crest of waves surfboard fashion.

Or they will float with heads submerged and tail high in the air as if walking on their hands.

Also, they will chase each other in games of tag.

On land, the young males try to imitate fights they have witnessed among older bulls.

Or they will gallop at a good speed and slide down slippery surfaces toboggan style, using their front flippers like oars to propel and guide themselves.

How fascinating they are to watch!

Fur seals also make a lot of noise.

A continual uproar is heard, consisting of growls, grunts, bellows, moans, howls, wails, barking, snorting, roaring and crying, which can be heard over a half mile away.

Seals are specially equipped to go “shopping for groceries” in the ocean depths.

They possess a contact-lens type of clear protective skin over their eyes, which allows them comfortably to see beneath water.

Some species are equipped with special circulatory systems to supply oxygenated blood for deep-sea diving and feeding. Two Weddell seals dived to 1,000 feet and swam under a 19-mile ice pack.

Others have been known to go as far as 2,000 feet deep.

Staking out territorial claims

Picture of an aggressive fur seal.

Fur seal bulls begin to arrive at the rockery from the open sea in November to begin staking out their territorial claims.

They station themselves near the water where each one selects his own private property.

And woe be to anyone that trespasses!

Interestingly, there are certain “streets" or “highways” that do not belong to anyone, and on these well-worn paths all seals may travel between sea and dry land without danger of intruding on private property.

Staking out a claim involves many a fierce and savage battle.

The seals often are seen with open bleeding wounds on their flippers, and gashes up to twelve inches on the back, neck and head.

It is also common to see pieces of fur and flesh ripped out, an eye missing, or other serious battle injury.

Fighting consists of alternate aggressive and defensive rapid movements, and slashes with tusk-like teeth into the forepart of the opponent’s body.

During the battle, neighbors frequently become curious spectators.

The single males congregate in the “bachelors' quarters" at a respectable distance.

The “bachelors” include older battle-scarred males who have lost out as “family men,” and also the young “ineligible” males.

The male fur seal is about nine years old when he begins to take mates, and he lives to about 22 to 24.

The female begins to produce young at about three years of age, and lives to about 19 or 20.

With territorial boundaries established by the end or November, the females begin to arrive.

As they do each male begins to seize female seals for his harem, sometimes as many as five, usually two or three, sometimes only one.

The largest, fattest bulls with thick necks generally get the largest harems, since they are better equipped to fight off competitors.

In the northern hemisphere harems are much larger.

The Alaskan seal averages about 40 females and has been known to have up to 120 in his harem.

A new generation

A fur seal pup and her mother.

Since it is now near the time for giving birth, the females rest for a few days.

Only one baby is born each year, and delivery requires about a half hour.

Like most newborn babies the pup begins to cry.

Sometimes a sea gull acts as obstetrician or midwife, clipping the umbilical cord with its beak.

If not, it soon dries up and falls off.

Mama seal nurses her baby like other mammals, producing a thick yellowish milk.

Within a few days Mrs. Seal is again in the mood to conceive.

After being fertilized by her polygamous mate, next year’s baby begins forming within her body.

Female seals are unusual among the mammals in that they have two wombs, using them alternately, since gestation requires over eleven and a half months.

Soon after birth, mother takes baby in her teeth by the nape of the neck and carries him to shallow water, where she gives him his first swimming lesson.

After a while she takes him back to the nursery to rest, then repeats the process later.

As he progresses, mother takes him into deeper water.

Finally he graduates to the open sea.

When returning to land in a rough sea, mother takes baby in her teeth and tenderly carries him in to prevent the turbulent waves from dashing him against the rocks.

But there is a greater danger to watch for-sharks, which place baby seals high on their menu of preferred delicacies!

Soon after mother has conceived her next offspring, papa seal releases her from harem restrictions, and she is free to go and come as she pleases.

By January the harem becomes a giant nursery.

While Mrs. Seal goes to sea to feed, her mate fulfills the role of baby-sitter.

As many as fifty or more babies flock together while their fathers keep watch.

When any female returns, all the youngsters set up a howl and follow her to try to snatch a snack, but she instinctively knows her own baby and chases the others away.

It is a happy time when mother returns home with a meal for youngster!

However, it is sad when a mother fails to come back from the feeding grounds, for it means death by starvation for her young one.

After a while the family breaks up.

Mr. Seal goes back to the sea, and Mrs. Seal takes baby with her for months of training in how to get along in the world.