Fur Seals

19 Fascinating Facts About Fur Seals

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Fur seals are marine mammals that belong to the eared seal family Otariidae. While they may resemble sea lions, fur seals actually have thicker fur coats and smaller front flippers than their sea lion cousins.

Fur seals live in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, congregating in large breeding colonies on islands and remote coastal areas. When not breeding, these seals can migrate long distances to feed.

Here are 19 fascinating facts about these sleek, whiskered swimmers:


Fur seals get their name from their thick, luxurious fur. Before restrictions were put in place, they were nearly hunted to extinction for this fur. Today, while some populations have rebounded, others remain endangered.

Beyond their valuable pelts, fur seals have adapted in incredible ways to thrive in the oceans. From their stellar diving abilities to their loud, barking calls, fur seals have no shortage of surprising features.

Facts and Features

  • 1. There are 9 species of fur seals in total. The main groups include Northern fur seals, Southern (or Antarctic) fur seals, South American fur seals, New Zealand fur seals, Australian fur seals, and sub-Antarctic fur seals.
  • 2. Male fur seals can be over 6 times larger than females. They use their size to defend territories and mate with females.
  • 3. Fur seals have external ear flaps, unlike “true” seals. Their scientific name “Otariidae” actually means “eared seals”.
  • 4. They spend over 75% of their life at sea. Fur seals lead very aquatic lives, coming ashore briefly to breed and give birth.
  • 5. Fur seals can dive over 600 feet deep to hunt prey. Their streamlined bodies, powerful flippers, and ability to store oxygen allow them to dive so deep.
  • 6. They have the longest maternal dependence period of any mammal. Fur seal pups will nurse from their mothers for over a year before being weaned.
  • 7. Fur seal milk has up to 60% fat, allowing pups to grow a thick blubber layer while nursing. This fat content is over 10 times fattier than cow milk!
  • 8. Males fast for over 60 days every year during mating seasons. They focus entirely on defending territories and mating instead of hunting during this time.
  • 9. Fur seals have been known to migrate over 9,300 miles in a year, making them champion marathon swimmers!
  • 10. They sleep at sea by entering a state called “logging” where they float at the surface. One side of their brain stays awake to watch for predators.
  • 11. Fur seals have very sensitive whiskers to help them hunt fish, even in murky waters. The whiskers can detect changes in water movement from fish swimming by.
  • 12. They have an excellent sense of smell both in and out of the water. Males can even smell which females are ready to mate!
  • 13. Some fur seal species number over 1.5 million seals strong. However, others have endangered populations under 20,000 that require conservation efforts.
  • 14. Fur seal pups weigh just 4.4 to 11 pounds at birth. Pups must grow quickly by nursing milk that has 4 times more calories than whale milk!
  • 15. Fur seals have been recorded diving as deep as 1550 ft – over a quarter mile! At these crushing depths their heart rates slow to conserve oxygen.
  • 16. They sleep in rows, packed tightly side-by-side. On land these social seals like to literally rub elbows with their neighbors!
  • 17. Fur seals have very loud, distinctive calls that sound similar to dogs barking. Their barks & growls help identify each other.
  • 18. Males will starve themselves for weeks to establish good mating territories. They know females prefer chunky, well-fed males!
  • 19. Fur seals have been reported living over 25 years. Their longevity allows them to spend decades breeding and perfecting their diving, migrating, and hunting skills.


From their marathon migrations to excellent diving abilities, fur seals have many incredible adaptations that allow them to thrive. While hunting once decimated their numbers, conservation efforts have allowed some populations to recover.

Fur seals’ fatty milk, territorial behaviors, sensitive whiskers, and more continue to fascinate researchers. As climate change and ocean pollution threaten their food supplies, maintaining healthy fur seal populations provides an important indicator about the wellbeing of our oceans.

Understanding these seals helps us better protect our seas and conserve species for generations to come. By learning just a few of their many fascinating traits, it’s easy to see why fur seals captivate the imagination!

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