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Science Must “Seal” the Deal: Meeting New Friends

To read: Science Must “Seal” the Deal: The Legend

Meet the Northern Fur Seal

            To understand the value of the seals to a hunter, it all comes down to dollars and cents associated with the price the fur seal skins fetch.  However, one should get to know the true value of these magical beings.  The Northern Fur Seals are classified as pinnipeds (Latin for “flap-footed”).  They possess a thick fur and spend an estimated half their year living in the ocean. The remaining half-year is spent on land during the summer mating season.  According to the Defenders of Wildlife Organization, there are “an estimated 1.2 million northern fur seals in the world today… [and] 60 – 70 percent” (Basic Facts About Northern Fur Seals, 2016) will breed on the Pribilof Islands.  Although the greatest number of visitors to the island are the exotic birds and their fortunate bird watching fans (a personal favorite is a tufted puffin), no visitor announces their presence louder than the seals marching onto the protected rookeries. Under the guidance of governing officials, during the seal invasion, there are safe areas for humans to watch the thousands of “barking” seals.  The seals are largely a peaceful lot with diverse personalities, but some are grumpy, others playful, and a few enjoy human attention.  However, there are exceptions to most rules to include the Northern Fur Seals.

mysaintpaulseal1Distinguishing adult characteristics.  There are substantial differences, to include an extreme sexual dimorphism between male and female seals, meaning the males are far larger than the females.  For instance, a male seal known as a “bull” can reach up to seven feet in length and weigh between 300 to 600 pounds.  Whereas a female typically weighs around 100 pounds while reaching a peak length of around 4.5 feet.  To future St. Paul visitors, please note, the seals do venture outside of their “established” areas.  Although usually polite, any seal can attack or bite.  However, never mistake the bull as being playful or anything other than what he is—a bully.

Life of a bull seal. The adult male seal’s life objective is to gather a harem of females, and they are his.  He has survived a lot to acquire his flock, he is extremely territorial— he will “bark” out orders to his harem and if threatened—he will attack a human or a competing bull alike.  The bull with his dozens of females may seem like an archaic sexist practice, but the arrangement best serves seal sustainment.  Although the bull has gone through a lot to prove he is a genetically superior male being, he has no time to rest.  Since he’s so large, his time on land is limited due to his vast weight loss working to gather, defend, and repopulate his group; so, the bull leaves the raising of offspring to the mother seals.

Life of female mother seal.  Since it takes almost a full year of gestation for a female to deliver just one baby seal, it is her responsibility to take care of her “pup.”  The mother/pup bond is strong; the mother can even find her pup by its “voice.”   As part of her motherly love, she will go out to sea to feed her pup.  Typically, the mother needs not fear for her pup’s safety while she goes hunting for food.  However, the mother must always be wary, after all, “what if the monsters come?” (Reeves, 2011).

 

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Another DR St Paul Island scenic view

 

 

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This little fellow was relaxed, playing it cool. 

 

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This seal was both confident but also curious about interacting with the DR.   
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Most of these seals were taking it easy, but one was curious enough to say, “What’s up.”  

Stay tuned for the finale which will include additional pictures from the DR personal collection.

 

References

Defenders of Wildlife (2016, September 19). Basic facts about northern fur seals.

Reeves, D. (2011). Slice of cherry. New York: Simon Pulse.

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