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The New Zealand Fur Seal

The New Zealand Fur Seal (Maori name Kekeno) is found in the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and also on the southern coast of Australia.

Physical Features

  • Seals have two layers of fur. Pups are black to dark brown when born but moult to a silvery grey within a few months.

  • Females weigh up to 70kg and males up to 185kg! Pups weigh between 3kg and 4kg at birth.

  • Females grow up to 1.5 metres long and males up to 2.5 metres.

  • Nails are rudimentary on the front flippers, but well developed on the rear flippers. Flippers are strong and serrated, providing excellent grip on wet rocks.

  • The scrotum and testes may be withdrawn into the male's body for protection.

New Zealand Fur Seal at Akaroa Seal Colony Safari
  • Females have four abdominal nipples.

  • Seals have an excellent sense of hearing, vision, and smell.

  • Seal eyes run constantly as they do not have control over their tear ducts.

Photo by Margaret and Paul Sikora

Habitat

  • Breeding males and females, along with first year juveniles, are found in colonies or rookeries. Rookery sites are chosen to provide protection from heavy seas and land-based animals. Easy access from the sea is essential and small pools in which pups can cool off and practise swimming are usually found in these areas.

  • Other non-breeding males and females live in hauling grounds. These areas do not require the same degree of shelter as rookeries.

Fur seals in a pool at Akaroa Seal Colony Safari

Photo by Margaret and Paul Sikora

Reproduction

  • Females become sexually mature around 4 years of age whereas males become sexually mature from 6 to 8 years of age. Male sexual activity depends on their ability to hold territory within the rookery.

  • Males compete for territory within the colony throughout the breeding season. This activity commences in early November, prior to the arrival of the breeding females from mid-November through to mid-January.

  • Females give birth to only one pup per year and suckle the new-born pup for some ten days, during which time she will mate again. The female then leaves the colony for one to four days to feed at sea. Upon her return, she locates her pup, suckles it for another one to four days before returning to the sea to feed.

  • Females will only suckle their own pup.

New Zealand fur seal nursing her pup at Akaroa Seal Colony Safari
  • After mating, the fertilised egg (blastocyst) remains quiescent in the uterus. Delayed implantation occurs in April/May when normal development commences.

  • Pups are weaned in July/August.

Mortality

  • Fur seals suffer high mortality (40%) from birth to 300 days.

  • Natural predators of the seal include sharks, killer whales, sea lions and leopard seals.

  • Starvation accounts for 70% of the deaths in pups up to 50 days old.

  • Other causes of death include suffocation, trampling, drowning, and predation.

New Zealand Environment

  • Maori used seals for food and clothing and the teeth were carved to make fishing hooks.

  • Seals were hunted for their skins, nearly to the point of extinction, by European settlers during the 1800s and early 1900s.

  • The hunting of seals for commercial gain became illegal in New Zealand in 1916, but this law was not seriously enforced until the mid 1960s.

  • The Marine Mammal Protection Act (1978) largely protects the New Zealand Fur Seal from desctruction by man in New Zealand waters. The power to police the act is vested in the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

Akaroa Seal Colony

Summary

Exploitation by humans of the New Zealand Fur Seal has ended and this beautiful mammal is now fully protected for all time. At Akaroa Seal Colony Safari we do our utmost to preserve the Fur Seal in our small section of paradise.