Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus Gazella) were hunted to the brink of extinction during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although the species has made a remarkable comeback, they suffer from a diminished gene pool and consequently depressed immune systems are not uncommon. They are listed on Appendix II of CITES and enjoy protection via various bits of legislation including the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals. Increases in krill fishing (on which these seals are heavily dependent) global warming and disease place additional stress on these animals. Entanglement is also a major concern, with an estimated 10 000 seals being affected each year.
These seals have been known to dive to a depth of over 250m. and can hold their breath for over 10 minutes. Average dives are much shallower though, usually only around 70m
They are preyed upon by sharks, Killer Whales and even Leopard Seals.
In January of 2000, Chilean scientists discovered anti-bodies in Antarctic Fur Seals for the disease Brucellosis Unusually high levels of toxic heavy metals have also been found in Antarctic Fur Seals, though their origin is unknown.
There have been calls from some scientists to downgrade the Antarctic Fur Seal’s conservation status. These scientists claim the growing population is causing environmental damage by polluting lakes and damaging plants.
The species was formerly known as the Kerguelen Fur Seal. It gets its name from a German corvette, the SMS Gazelle, which collected the first specimen off Kerguelen Island.
They form part of the largest concentration of marine mammals on earth, around South Georgia. This is because they are heavily dependent on krill. Extensive whaling has caused there to be a surplus in krill, leading to an imbalance in the trophic cascades or food chain which has enabled these seals populations to grow.
These animals were hunted to the brink of extinction. In the early 1900’s, they were believed to be completely wiped out. Thankfully, a small population on Bird Island remained un-detected and continued to breed, thus saving this species from a certain demise.