NEW ZEALAND FUR SEAL
( Arctocephalus forsteri )
MAORI NAME - Kekeno
The New Zealand Fur Seal is only found on the coasts of New
Zealand and its sub-Antarctic islands with a few colonies
on the south coast of Australia. Unlike true seals they have visible
ears and do not have a blubber layer so they have fur for warmth.
The fur is in two layers. The outer layer of stiffer hairs is silvery
brown when dry with the inner layer of soft water proof fur being
Male Fur Seals grow up to about 2
metres in length and weigh up to about 200kg. They have very thick
necks and appear to have a mane. Because of this they are sometimes
mistakenly called "sealions". Females are of slimmer build
and only weigh up to about 100kg.
When they move on land the flippers
are swung outwards and used in pairs or alternately. In fast land
movement the hind flippers are always used in unison, as they are
less mobile than the forelimbs, while the head is swung back and
forth to give added impetus. Although they look ungainly on land
it is surprising how steep a rock face they can climb and the speed
that they can cross rough terrain is quite remarkable, especially
if they are startled or feel threatened. Seals usually feed at night
traveling out to sea, sometimes for days at a time, to feed on octopus,
squid, lantern fish and barracouta. Once in the water seals are
truly graceful and inquisitive creatures. They can reach speeds
of up to 50km/hr and have been recorded as deep as 274metres. Their
dives average 3 - 5 minutes but can be as long as 11 minutes. They
have been seen as far as 1000km off shore and one seal tagged in
New Zealand was seen in Australia.
During the breeding season,
November to December, they are territorial and become very aggressive
if approached to closely. Extreme care should be exercised if there
are pups about or when you are between the sea and the seals. If
a seal decides to make a run for the water it is not about to stop
for you and a 100+kg of seal on top of you is no joke! They also
have very large and dirty teeth. which can and do inflict serious
injuries which WILL infect.
In a breeding group there will be a dominant male with up to
30 females, sometimes more, which leads to fierce fighting among
the bulls. Female seals start to breed at 3 - 4 years old. The gestation
period, which they can control, is about 51 weeks. They give birth
and mate again about 1 week later. For every pup she suckles she
is carrying the embryo of another. About 7 - 10 days after the pup
is born she will start leaving it alone while she goes out to sea
to feed. At first she will only be away for a short time but as
the pup grows older she will spend longer and longer periods away,
sometimes 2 - 3 days at a time.New Zealand Fur Seals were once found
in abundance on the shores of both the mainland and offshore islands
of New Zealand but in the early 1800s they were hunted to
near extinction for their fur which was used for hats, coats clothing
etc. In 1824 one expedition alone took from 70 - 80,000 skins from
the south of New Zealand. During the peak of the sealing trade no
less than 400,000 skins were taken from the Antipodes Islands alone.
Commercial Sealing was stopped by the Government in New Zealand
in 1946. Today they are slowly making a comeback.
They have only bred in the Kaikoura
area since about 1985, the population here being a transient one
of approximately 2,000 with the greatest numbers occurring in winter.
There are four main haul out areas along the Kaikoura coast ( Haumuri
Bluff, Rileys Lookout or Barneys Rock, Kaikoura Peninsula
and Ohau Point ) with breeding in small numbers at three of these.
Today seals are again finding
themselves at the center of interest to commercial operators but
this time it is in a passive way that the seals themselves seem
to find very entertaining. Once in the water the seals are extremely
agile and nosy creatures that love to show off their skills to the
clumsy invaders of their realm. Seal Swimming with an experienced
guide is highly recommended and a truly amazing event. To mingle
with wild animals in their own environment is something few people
will ever forget.