South American Fur Seals (Arctocephalus Australis) are found along the neotropical coasts of Argentina, Peru and Chile. They prefer rocky shores, particularly with steep slopes where shaded areas provide relief from the sun. In Uruguay, they were hunted from as early as 1515, with records indicating that as many as many as 750 000 being slaughtered from 1873 and 1983. As with Cape Fur Seals, strong el Nino events have severely affected this species. In 1997-1998 up to 80% of females and pups died in Peru and the population is still struggling to recover. Aside from entanglement and illegal hunting by fishermen, oil spills have also taken their toll, with one spill in 1997 killing over 6 000 animals, mostly pups. They are listed on Appendix II of CITES.
Breeding for these seals takes place from late October through till the end of December.
Adult males set up breeding territories in the inter-tidal zone, where they compete for females and are able to cool themselves. Males usually reach sexual maturity when they are around 6 years old, but only get territorial rights when they are around 9. Females reach sexual maturity when they are between three and four years of age.
Pups weigh in at between 3.5kg and 5.5kg and measure 55cm-65cm in length. Males tend to be slightly larger than the females. Their mothers will mate 5-10 days after giving birth, during which time she remains with the pup.
Shortly after mating, the females abandon the pup to go foraging at sea for 3-5 days before returning to nurse and suckle for 1-2 days. The weaning period for these seals varies from between 6-12 months, though most are self sufficient at around 7 months old.
Pup mortality also varies quite considerably, depending on the density of the breeding colony. In Peru for example, where mothers and pups are easily separated, pups may become injured by aggressive bulls. Mortality rates as high as 49% have been recorded, the highest of all the fur seals.
South American Fur Seals vary quite considerably in both size and diet, depending on their home regions. For example, in Peru they live almost exclusively on anchovies; while in Chile, lobster krill makes up the staple diet.
Uruguayan fishermen have called for these animals to be culled, blaming them for damaging fishing nets and stealing catch. A pilot study was launched to show that seal viewing based eco-tourism would be able to generate more money, but as yet the project is still in its stages of infancy.
Although the species species received protection from the Peruvian government as far back as 1959, illegal poaching is still quite common in that country.
The species is preyed upon by sharks, Killer Whales and even South American Sea Lions
The current total population is estimated to be between 380 thousand to 405 thousand, though figures may prove to be overstated.