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April 21, 2018  |  Login

Northern Fur Seal
Callorhinus ursinus

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What Are They Like?

Northern fur seals have the thickest pelage (fur) of all seals and sea lions. Males can measure 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) in length, and can weigh up to 595 pounds (270 kilograms), while female seals measure only 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) and 110 pounds (50 kilograms).  This means the male seals can be 30% - to 40% longer and up to 4.5 times heavier than female seals. Females are gray and brown, and males are reddish or black. They can live up to 25 years in the wild.

Where Do They Live?

Northern fur seals are found in the Pacific Ocean, as well as in the Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and Sea of Japan. They range from Baja California to Mexico, and extend to Japan over the Pacific Ocean and seas.  Northern fur seals are both a terrestrial and a marine animal, but spend most of their time at sea in the cool Pacific waters.

Did You Know?
Northern fur seals sleep on their backs while floating along the surface with their fins sticking out of the water. This is called the "jug-handle" position.

How Are Babies Made?

Northern fur seals reproduce once a year from mid-June until August, with a peak period during July. Breeding typically occurs on the Pribilof Islands or in southern California. After a gestation period of 51 weeks (357 days) due to delayed implantation up to four months, a female will give birth to one pup. Pups are blackish when first born, but after three to four months turn the same color as a female adult.

What Do They Eat?

The diet of northern fur seals varies by location and season, but they are carnivores and commonly prey on schooling and non-schooling fish and squids. The most common types of food include anchovy, hake, saury, several species of squid, rockfish, and salmon. In Alaskan waters, the most common prey are walleye pollock, capelin, sand lance, and herring.


What Do They Do?

Northern fur seals spend most of their year at sea, rarely returning to land between breeding seasons. Juveniles go off on their own for two or three years before returning to shore (usually their birth place). They travel alone or in pairs, usually far from shore, and spend most of their time floating on the surface water grooming or sleeping. They are most active in the early morning or evening while hunting for food.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the northern fur seal as “vulnerable” in a “Red List” of species in global endangerment. Their wild population is currently decreasing due to commercial harvesting. Entanglement in debris, drift net fisheries, oil spills that interfere with the insulating properties of their fur, and global warming also cause substantial annual mortalities.

What's Being Done?

The northern fur seal is now managed on land independently by the Commonwealth of Independent States and the United States. The eastern north Pacific population of the northern fur seal was listed as depleted under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1988, and a final conservation plan was completed in December 2007. In addition, special measures are taken by commercial fishing to minimize the unintentional entanglement of seals during fishing processes.


Fur Seal Migrations

Fur Seals with Pups

Fur Seal: Feeling the Heat with Jeff Corwin

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