The Galapagos Fur Seal
If you are fortunate enough to visit the Galapagos Islands when you travel to Ecuador, you should keep an eye out for a rare species of seal known as the “Galapagos Fur Seal” (Arctocephalus galapagoensis). This cute little seal is smallest of all fur seal species and they are endemic to the Galapagos Islands.
These curious Galapagos fur seals are still fairly big – even though they are quite a bit smaller than other fur seals. The average male measures roughly 1.5 meters in length and may weigh as much as 65 kilograms. The females are a bit smaller, measuring 1.2 meters and weighing in at about 30 kilograms. As with other seal species, the male is known as a ‘bull’ and the female is known as a ‘cow’. Their bodies are covered with a short gray-brown fur that tends to look glossy and black-brown when wet but golden-fawn and fluffy when dry. Their snouts are short and pointed and their eyes are large and full of expression. No doubt these large eyes help them to hunt at night, which is their main feeding period. At this time they usually dive to feed on aquatic animals such as fish, octopus and squid. The Galapagos fur seals may dive as deep as 169 meters when swimming and hunting.
If you are able to observe these beautiful seals in Ecuador, you will find that the Galapagos Fur Seal avoid the sea lions of the Galapagos and so their territories do not overlap. This means that the seals and sea lions do not have to compete with each other for food or territorial land.
When choosing a shelter, the fur seals prefer to seek refuge in the many caves along rocky shore lines where they can enjoy quick and easy access to the water and good shelter. It is just as well that they choose such a sheltered home environment since Galapagos Fur Seals are known to have the longest nursing period of all fur seal species. Pups may stay with their cow for as long as three years though sometimes they leave after only a year.
The Galapagos Fur Seal is classified as being a ‘vulnerable’ species after extensive hunting from fur traders depleted herds during the 19th century. Colonies they have still not fully recovered. Also impacting this vulnerable creature is the effects of El Niño which has contributed to their decline. However, with the help of conservationists fighting to ensure the survival of Ecuador’s Galapagos Fur Seals, this rare and exquisite creature will continue to repopulate its colonies.