Wildlife Watch: Galapagos Fur Seals

May 14, 2013
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The Galapagos fur seal is the smallest fur seal, with six other fur seals in other areas of the world being larger. The scientific name, Arctocephalus, translates to “bear head” as its face and head are small with fairly large ears and a very pointed snout. The Galapagos fur seal has very large eyes which aid in their foraging strategies of being nocturnal. Through long term studies, it appears that fur seals prefer small moon phases for feeding at sea and during full or big moon nights, the fur seals remain ashore. This may be a self-preservation tactic. It keeps the fur sela from being preyed upon by sharks or other ocean predators on the bright nights of the full moon.

During the 1800’s, many thousands of fur seals were killed for their pelts and the Galapagos fur seal nearly became extinct. Today, their numbers have rebounded and some authorities believe there are almost equal numbers of fur seals as there are sea lions. The Galapagos fur seal is not observed as frequently as sea lions on Galapagos Islands cruises though, as the fur seal prefers the colder waters of the up-welling zone in the western part of the islands. These are areas outside of the typical tourism routes; however fur seals are often observed on Genovesa and at James Bay on Santiago Island. They also prefer rocky areas where they climb extremely well and where they can escape the ravages of the heat from the sun. Fur seals have an amazingly think fur which allows many of the fur seal species to survive in frigid, almost freezing water temperatures.

Male fur seals are sexually mature at about nine years of age and usually are able to hold a territory for about three years. Females become sexually receptive only a few days post-partum. Fur seal pups have the longest suckling or nursing time of any of the world’s pinnipeds (seals and sea lions).  Unfortunately, due to this, if a pup is born while an older pup may still be occasionally suckling, the young fur seal most often dies of starvation. Typically a female fur seal is only able to give birth once every two years, so reproductive rate is fairly slow. Snorkeling with fur seals is a real treat on your Galapagos cruise. Their large front flippers allow them to be extremely maneuverable, and they are amazingly speedy in the watery realm. 
 

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.