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Northern Fur Seal image
Northern Fur Seal

Northern Fur Seal


Northern Fur Seal Baby
Northern Fur Seal Baby

Northern Fur Seal Habits

Male and female seals come together only during breeding season. Once they are mature, males never stray far from the breeding area. Females, however, make an annual migration to hunt in waters as far south as California.
Much more agile than true seals [which do not have external ears], the northern fur seal uses its hind flippers to move quickly over short distances. When swimming, true seals propel themselves through the water almost entirely by their hind flippers, but the fur seal uses its webbed front flippers as well as its hind flippers.
The northern fur seal's senses are well developed but how it navigates under-water is still unknown. Scientists believe that it may rely on the taste or smell of various ocean currents for guidance.
By 1834 fur traders had nearly wiped out the Pribilof northern fur seals. Other nations also endangered seals by killing them at sea. In 1911 the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and the Soviet Union agreed to honor prohibitions outlawing the killing of fur seals at sea and to conduct studies to find ways of preventing further decline.

Northern Fur Seal Communication

Male seals are the most vocal because they use their calls to defend their territories. The sounds are amplified underwater and can be heard by other seals over large distances. They make long-range calls underwater designed to attract females. Up north under the polar ice, these calls can be heard 30 kilometers away. Above-ground snorts, whistles, and growls are responses to threats from other seals.

Northern Fur Seal Breeding

In June, male seals, called bulls, compete to establish breeding territories before the females, or cows, arrive on the beaches. Each bull gradually acquires a harem of up to forty cows.
Within 48 hours of arriving at the breeding site, each cow gives birth to a single, small, black pup that was conceived during the previous year's mating season. Several days later the female mates with a dominant bull, and after suckling her pup for a few days, returns to the sea to hunt.
After three months the pups are weaned, and they accompany the females on their migration south. The males remain in their territories for three months without eating.

Northern Fur Seal Food & Feeding

The northern fur seal spends most of its life hunting for food in the north Pacific. Its main food is fish, although it also eats squid and crustaceans. Like other seals, the northern fur seal uses its whiskers to catch fish. Each whisker has nerve endings that detect the vibrations made by passing fish.
During the breeding season the females leave their pups regularly to make extended hunting trips. They travel distances of up to a hundred miles and are often gone for seven or eight days. The seals swim, rest, and sleep on the surface of the water until they reach suitable feeding grounds. They hunt mainly at night and can stay submerged for periods of up to seven minutes at a time.

Northern Fur Seal Key Facts

              Height: Length: Male up to 7 ft. Female up to 5 ft
              Weight: Males 400 - 600 lb. Females, 65 - 110 lb
             Sexual maturity: 3 years
             Mating: Non-seasonal in the tropics; early autumn in extremes of range
             Gestation: 93 - 110 days
             Number of young: 1-4 cubs
            Habit: Solitary, except in breeding season, when they come together to mate
            Diet: Ground-living mammals, domestic stock, fish, frogs, turtles, and small alligators
            Lifespan: Up to 22 years



  • Male and female seals are so different in size that some naturalists once thought they were different species.
  • Fur seals are known to eat 63 species of fish but usually feed on just eight.
  • The female's annual migration to and from the breeding grounds is the longest undertaken by any seal species. The trip can be as far as 6,000 miles.
  • One of the main reasons the United States purchased Alaska from the Soviet Union in the 1800s was to obtain the Pribilof islands fur trade. Revenues paid for the purchase within three years.
  • Most seals dive to an average depth of 200 feet, but fur seals dive to 600 feet.

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