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New Zealand Fur Seal Fact File

Arctocephalus forsteri

Weight

35-160kg

(77-352lbs)

Length

1.3-1.9m

(4.3-6ft)

Lifespan

Male 15 years

Female 26 years

Diet

Carnivore

Fish

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

While known as the New Zealand fur seal this species also occurs around the coastline of Australia where they haul out on the rocky shorelines.

They spend their time out at sea looking for food such as fish and birds. While hunting they may dive underwater for up to 11 minutes before surfacing for a breath.

During the nineteenth century they were almost hunted to extinction for their fur. Since receiving protection their numbers have now rebounded and the population is considered to be increasing.

Learn more about these marvellous mammals by reading on below.

Appearance

New Zealand fur seals are colored grey to brown with dark tan on the ears. They have long white whiskers protruding from either side of the face. A thick mane of long guard hairs is present. When wet their fur will appear to be black.

The male has a pale muzzle.

As a seal they have an external ear which is visible from the outside.

On either side of their body are two flippers. The back flippers are able to rotate forward helping them to move fast across land.

Male New Zealand fur seals are significantly larger than females. On average a male will measure 1.6-1.9m (5.2-6ft) long with a weight of 90-160kg (198-352lbs). Females by comparison measure just 1.3-1.5m (4.3-5ft) long with a weight of 35-50kg (77-110lbs).

Diet


New Zealand fur seals are carnivores. They feed on fish, cephalopods and birds such as the little penguin.

New Zealand Fur Seal

Range

While known as the New Zealand fur seal this species is not solely restricted to New Zealand where they can be found around the entire coastline. Populations also exist on Stuart Island and all of New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands.

Populations also occur in Australia where they can be found from New South Wales around past Victoria and South Australia across to Western Australia. They can also be found around Tasmania.

Occasional vagrant populations are also reported from New Caledonia.

Habitat

New Zealand fur seals are found along the coastline on rocky shorelines where their is available shelter. In parts of their range they will haul out behind the shoreline and rest in vegetation such as scrub or forest.

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Reproduction

Mating takes place between November and January. Each year the adults will return to the same nesting site.

The males arrive at the breeding site up to two weeks before the females to begin establishing their territory. Each male will maintain a territory with up to 8 females with which he can breed. He will herd the females to keep them from other males.

While breeding males remain onshore to maximize their breeding opportunities. During this time they will survive off energy reserves.

Dominant males will battle one another for mating rights prior to the breeding season. These include glaring and posturing along with physical violence.


The single pup is born after an 8 month gestation period. This does not begin for 3 months due to the New Zealand fur seal exhibiting delayed implantation where the egg does not begin development immediately. They drink milk for the next 10 months at which point they wean.

Even pups exhibit sexual dimorphism with males quickly growing to be larger than males.

Females will leave their pup on the beach when they go out to hunt. When they return to the shore they call and their pup will call back so they can find one another.

Once at the shore she will remain with the pup for 1 to 2 days to allow the pup to drink milk. As the pup grows the mother will spend longer at sea before coming back to land.

As pups grow they will play in water pools and mimic battles with other pups to develop skills for later in life.


Females reach sexual maturity between 4 and 6 years old. Males reach sexual maturity at 5-6 years old but will need to maintain a territory before they mate. This often leads to their first mating not occurring till 8 or 9 years old.

Females tend to mate with the dominant male in their territory within a few days of giving birth so their baby for next season can begin developing.


On Macquarie Island they can be interbred with Antarctic and sub-Antarctic fur seals to produce a hybrid.

Behavior

New Zealand fur seals can dive to depths of up to 238m (780ft) and remain under water for as long as 11 minutes.

Fur seals hunt almost exclusively at night when their prey comes to the surface.

During the day they will haul out both at the breeding colonies or at non-breeding haul outs.

These animals are highly vocal. Males call during threat displays.

Males spend long periods scratching, rubbing and grooming their coat. Spots they can't reach themselves are rubbed on rocks.

New Zealand Fur Seal

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the New Zealand fur seal include orcas, sharks, New Zealand Sea Lions and leopard seals.

Humans affect their population through pollution and entanglement in fishing nets.

Fur hunting in the nineteenth century almost drove this species to extinction. They received protection in Australia in 1972.

Their thick fur means they are vulnerable to oil spills.

The current population is thought to number around 80,000 in Australia. Their numbers are believed to be increasing.

Quick facts

In new Zealand they are known as the kekeno.

New Zealand Fur Seal

Photo Credits

Top, Middle One and Bottom

Public Domain

Middle Two

Copyright. The Animal Facts.

References

Slater, P. and Parish, S., 2016. First Field Guide To Australian Mammals. 1st ed. New South Wales: Pascal Press.

Chilvers, B.L. & Goldsworthy, S.D. 2015. Arctocephalus forsteri. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41664A45230026. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T41664A45230026.en. Downloaded on 01 June 2021.

The Australian Museum. 2021. New Zealand Fur Seal. [online] Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/mammals/new-zealand-fur-seal/> [Accessed 1 June 2021].

Doc.govt.nz. 2021. Facts about New Zealand fur seal. [online] Available at: <https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/marine-mammals/seals/nz-fur-seal/facts/> [Accessed 2 June 2021].

Wilson, S., 2021. New Zealand fur seal. [online] Pinnipeds.org. Available at: <https://www.pinnipeds.org/seal-information/species-information-pages/sea-lions-and-fur-seals/new-zealand-fur-seal> [Accessed 2 June 2021].

Landgren, D. 2013. "Arctocephalus forsteri" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 01, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Arctocephalus_forsteri/

Wildlife.rottnestisland.com. 2021. Rottnest Island Wildlife | New Zealand Fur Seal. [online] Available at: <https://wildlife.rottnestisland.com/water/fauna/new-zealand-fur-seal> [Accessed 2 June 2021].

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