Juan Fenandez Fur Seals (Arctocephalus Philippii) are the second smallest of the otariids. They are found on rocky islets in the Juan Fernandez and San Ambrosia chain off the coast of Chile. They were heavily targeted by commercial sealers from the late 1700’s to the mid 1800’s until it was believed they were extinct all together. In 1965, a small group of 200 individuals was discovered and, with total protection from the Chilean government assigned to them in 1978, the species was dragged back from the brink of extinction. The species is listed on the IUCN’s Red Data list as “Near Threatened” and also appears on Appendix II of CITES. Loss of habitat, human interference, entanglement, marine pollution, disease and competition with pelagic fisheries all pose considerable threats to these animals.
High temperatures and the nature of their habitat has resulted in marked different breeding patterns from other fur seals. Pupping runs through November and December, where males will not only fight for territory on land (as with most other fur seals) but also along the shoreline, rocky outcrops and even in the water. This is significant as females will move down to the shoreline in order to cool off during the heat of the day. Males will also abandon territories for up to 45 minutes in order to cool down.
Approximately 10 days after giving birth, the female will abandon her offspring and go out on her foraging trips. These may be just short of two weeks (considered to be exceptionally long when compared to other seals) before she returns to nurse and suckle her young for another 3-5 days. This cycle continues for between 8-10 months until the pup is weened.
Pups weigh in at around 5-7kg at birth and measure around 70cm with males being slightly heavier and longer. Males take longer than females to reach sexual maturity and also have shorter life spans (around 12 years compared with the females 23)
Early accounts from sailors records place estimates of these seals to be in their millions. Commercial Sealers targeted these animals heavily for their meat, fur, oil and blubber from the late 1600’s onwards. Approximately 4 million seals were taken this way.
Some reports suggest that fishermen use these seals as a form of bait as well as a barter commodity.
Adult males tend to be heavily scarred, the result of much fighting over territorial disputes. They also have a more ‘bulbous’ shape to their noses than females.