Fur seal

name = Fur seals

image_width = 250px
image_caption = Cape Fur Seal
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
ordo = Carnivora
subordo = Pinnipedia
familia = Otariidae
subdivision_ranks = Genera
subdivision = "Callorhinus"

Fur seals are any of nine species of pinnipeds in the "Otariidae" family. One species, the northern fur seal ("Callorhinus ursinus") inhabits the North Pacific, while seven species in the "Arctocephalus" genus are found primarily in the Southern hemisphere. They are much more closely related to sea lions than true seals, and share with them external ears (pinnae), relatively long and muscular foreflippers, and the ability to walk on all fours. They are marked by their dense underfur, which made them a long-time object of commercial hunting.


Until recently, fur seals were all grouped under a single subfamily of Pinnipedia called "Arctocephalinae" to contrast them with "Otariinae" - the sea lions - based on the most prominent common feature, namely the coat of dense underfur intermixed with guard hairs. Recent genetic evidence, however, suggests that "Callorhinus" is more closely related to some sea lion species, and the fur seal/sealion subfamily distinction has been eliminated from most taxonomies. Nonetheless, all fur seals have certain features in common: the fur, generally smaller sizes, farther and longer foraging trips, smaller and more abundant prey items and greater sexual dimorphism. For these reasons, the distinction remains useful.

Physical appearance

Fur seals share with other otariids the ability to turn their rear limbs forward and move on all fours. Fur seals are generally smaller than sea lions. At under 1 m, the Galapagos fur seal is the smallest of all pinnipeds. However, their flippers tend to be proportionately longer, their pelage tends to be darker and the vibrissae more prominent. Males are often more than five times heavier than the females, making them among the most sexually dimorphic of all mammal groups.

Behavior and ecology

Typically, fur seals gather during the summer months annually in large assemblages at specific beaches or rocky outcrops to give birth and breed. All species are polygynous, meaning dominant males reproduce with more than one female. For most species, total gestation lasts about 11.5 months, including a several month period of delayed implantation of the embryo. While northern fur seal males aggressively select and defend the specific females in their harems, [http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/NMML/education/Pinnipeds/furseals.htm] males of southern species of fur seal tend to protect spatial territories and females are free to choose or switch their mates according to their own preference or social hierarchy. After several continuous days of nursing the newborn pups, females go on extended foraging trips that can last as long as a week, returning to the rookery to feed their pups until they are weaned. Males fast during the reproductive season, unwilling to leave their females or territories.

The remainder of the year, fur seals lead a largely pelagic existence in the open sea pursuing their prey wherever it is abundant and plentiful. Fur seals feed on moderately sized fish, squid and krill. They are preyed upon by sharks, orcas, and occasionally by larger sea lions.

When fur seals were hunted in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they hauled out on remote islands where there were no predators. The hunters reported being able to club they unwary animals to death one after another, making the hunt profitable even though the price per seal skin was low. [Muir, Diana Reflections in Bullough's Pond, University Press of New England, 2001]


Many fur seal species were heavily exploited by commercial sealers, especially during the 19th century when their fur was highly valued. Beginning in the 1790s, the ports of Stonington and New Haven, Connecticut were leaders of the American fur seal trade, which primarily entailed clubbing fur seals to death on uninhabited South Pacific islands, skinning them, and selling the hides in China. [ Muir, Diana, "Reflections in Bullough's Pond," University Press of New England, 2000,pp. 80ff.] Many populations, notably the Guadalupe fur seal, northern fur seal and Cape fur seal, suffered dramatic declines and are still recovering. Currently, most species are protected and hunting is mostly limited to subsistence harvest. Globally, most populations can be considered healthy, mostly due to the fact that they often prefer remote habitats that are relatively inaccessible to humans. Nonetheless, environmental degradation, competition with fisheries and climate change potentially pose threats to some populations.


* Family Otariidae
** "Genus Arctocephalus"
*** Antarctic Fur Seal, "A. gazella"
*** Guadalupe Fur Seal, "A. townsendi"
*** Juan Fernandez Fur Seal, "A. philippii"
*** Galapagos Fur Seal, "A. galapagoensis"
*** Cape Fur Seal, "A. pusillus"
****South African Fur Seal, "A. pusillus pusillus"
****Australian Fur Seal, "A. pusillus doriferus"
*** New Zealand Fur Seal or Southern Fur Seal, "A. forsteri"
*** Subantarctic Fur Seal, "A. tropicalis"
*** South American Fur Seal, "A. australis"
** "Genus Callorhinus"
*** Northern Fur Seal, "C. ursinus"
** "Genus Eumetopias"
** "Genus Neophoca"
** "Genus Otaria"
** "Genus Phocarctos"
** "Genus Zalophus"
* Family Phocidae: true seals
* Family Odobenidae: Walrus

ee also

* Seal (disambiguation)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • fur seal — Seal Seal (s[=e]l), n. [OE. sele, AS. seolh; akin to OHG. selah, Dan. s[ae]l, Sw. sj[ a]l, Icel. selr.] (Zo[ o]l.) Any aquatic carnivorous mammal of the families {Phocid[ae]} and {Otariid[ae]}. [1913 Webster] Note: Seals inhabit seacoasts, and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Fur seal — Fur Fur, a. Of or pertaining to furs; bearing or made of fur; as, a fur cap; the fur trade. [1913 Webster] {Fur seal} (Zo[ o]l.) one of several species of seals of the genera {Callorhinus} and {Arclocephalus}, inhabiting the North Pacific and the …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • fur seal — fur′ seal n. mam clo any of several eared seals having a valuable plush underfur Compare hair seal • Etymology: 1765–75 …   From formal English to slang

  • Fur seal — (engl., spr. förr ßīl), die Bärenrobbe, s. Robbenfelle …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • fur seal — n. any of several eared seals (esp. genus Callorhinus) with soft, thick underfur: see SEAL2 …   English World dictionary

  • fur seal — noun 1. an eared seal of the northern Pacific • Hypernyms: ↑eared seal • Hyponyms: ↑Alaska fur seal, ↑Callorhinus ursinus • Member Holonyms: ↑Callorhinus, ↑genus Callorhinus …   Useful english dictionary

  • fur seal — any of several eared seals, as Callorhinus alascanus, having a plush underfur used in making coats, trimmings, etc. [1765 75] * * * Any of nine species of eared seals valued for their fur, especially the chestnut coloured underfur. Fur seals live …   Universalium

  • fur seal — /ˈfɜ sil/ (say fer seel) noun any of various species of eared seal, of the genera Callorhinus and Arctocephalus, which have under the outer hair a thick coat of fur of great commercial value (distinguished from hair seal) …   Australian English dictionary

  • fur seal — noun a gregarious eared seal of the Pacific and southern oceans, whose thick underside fur is used commercially as sealskin. [Callorhinus ursinus and other species.] …   English new terms dictionary

  • fur seal — noun A marine mammal of either of the genera Arctocephalus or Callorhinus of the eared seal family Otariidae. They differ from the true seals by having small, visible ears and the ability to walk on land …   Wiktionary

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