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Arctocephalus gazella (Peters, 1875)

provided by EG-BAMM, Ian Staniland

Description

Antarctic fur seals are one of the most numerous mammalian predators in the Antarctic. The population was hunted to near extinction at the start of the 20th Century for its pelt. It has subsequently recovered with the current population estimated to be in the region of 3-4 million. Around breeding beaches small groups or individuals can often be seen porpoising through the water and will often stop to investigate ships or small boats. On land they are often aggressive and, during the breeding season, large aggregations can make access to beaches difficult.

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Species details

Photos

  • Arctocephalus gazella - Antarctic fur seal - Ian Staniland
  • Arctocephalus gazella - Antarctic fur seal - Ian Staniland
  • Arctocephalus gazella - Antarctic fur seal - Ian Staniland
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Species distribution

Wide distribution, primarily breeding on sub-Antarctic and Antarctic Islands in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions of the Southern Ocean. 95% of the world population breeds on South Georgia. Non- breeding individuals are more widely dispersed.

Antarctic fur seals are shallow divers confined to surface waters. Females generally dive to 30 - 40 m and rarely exceed 200m. Larger males dive deeper ~100m with a maximum recorded of 350 m.

Antarctic fur seals are highly polygynous with territorial bulls defending harems of, on average, nine females. Territories are established on breeding grounds in October to early November, when the musty-smelling males are extremely aggressive in defence of their patch of beach. Females arrive a few weeks later giving birth a few days after coming ashore. Lactating females then alternate between short trips to sea (2-10 days) and periods ashore (1-2 days) suckling their pups. Pups are weaned at about four months old. Mating takes place a few days after the pup is born and the female gestates for just over a year, so that she is pregnant whilst suckling.
They feed mostly on krill, Euphausia superba, in the South Atlantic part of their range with myctophids and nototheniids dominating elsewhere. The predation of squid or penguins may also be locally or seasonally significant. They have few predators although leopard seals and killer whales are known to take smaller individuals particularly juveniles.

Fur seals preferentially breed on shale or pebble beaches close to areas of high marine productivity, but in areas of high density they can be found on almost all sea-shore environments. As the breeding season progresses mother-pup pairs usually move into tussock grass areas behind the breeding beaches.
Away from the mating season males appear to move southwards foraging around, and hauling out on, the ice edge or Antarctic islands. During winter females disperse at sea ranging from the ice edge to areas far north of the polar front.

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