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Arctocephalus gazella

Antarctic fur seals, Arctocephalus gazella

Arctocephalus gazella

Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Mammalia
Subclassis: Theria
Infraclassis: Placentalia
Ordo: Carnivora
Subordo: Caniformia
Familia: Otariidae
Subfamilia: Arctocephalinae
Genus: Arctocephalus
Species: Arctocephalus gazella


Arctocephalus gazella (Peters, 1875)

Type locality: "von Seehunden aus Kerguelenland". Restriced by Scheffer (1958) to "Anse Betsy (49°09'S, 70°11'E)."


* Peters, W. C. H. 1875. Über eine neue Art von Seebären, Arctophoca gazella, von der Kerguelen-Inseln. Monatsberichte der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 1875: 393, 396.


* Arctocephalus gazella on Mammal Species of the World.
* Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, 2 Volume Set edited by Don E. Wilson, DeeAnn M. Reeder
* IUCN link: Arctocephalus gazella (Peters, 1875) (Least Concern)
* Arctocephalus gazella (Peters, 1875) Report on ITIS

Vernacular names
English: Antarctic Fur Seal
Polski: uchatka antarktyczna


The Antarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus gazella) is one of eight seals in the genus Arctocephalus, and one of nine fur seals in the Arctocephalinae family. As its name suggests, the Antarctic Fur Seal is distributed in Antarctic waters. Around 95% of the world population breeds at the Island of South Georgia. It is named for the German naval vessel the SMS Gazelle which collected the first specimen from Kerguelen Island. The species is also known as the Kerguelen Fur Seal.

The fur seal, Deception Island

This fur seal has a short and broad snout compared with others in the family. Adult males are dark brown in colour. Females and juveniles tend to be grey with a lighter underside. Colour patterns are highly variable, and some scientists believe that some hybridisation with Subantarctic Fur Seals has occurred. Pups are dark brown, nearly black at birth. About one in 1000 Antarctic fur seals are pale 'blonde' variants.

Males are substantially bigger than females. Antarctic fur seals grow 2 m (6.5 ft) long and weigh 91 kg (200 lb) to 209 kg (460 lb)[2]. Males live for about 15 years and females up to 25.

Antarctic Fur Seals appear to act alone when foraging and migrating. Males breed polygynously; a strong male may have more than a dozen female partners in a single season. Territories are established on breeding grounds in October to early November, when the musty-smelling males are extremely aggressive in defence of their harems. Females gestate for just over a year - giving birth in November or December. Pups are weaned at about four months old. Juveniles may then spend several years at sea before returning to begin their breeding cycle.

The usual food supply is krill, of which each Antarctic Fur seal eats about a tonne in a year. Due to the enormous and growing populations of these seals, their food is a significant proportion of South Georgia's krill stocks.

Distribution and population

The Antarctic Fur Seal breeds in summer on islands ranging from South Georgia at 70° W round to about 80° E (Kerguelen Islands). Additionally there is a breeding ground at Macquarie Island, 165°E - south of New Zealand. All these islands lie between 45° S and 60° S. The animal's winter range is not known. During these long dark months, the seal spends its time almost surely at sea close to the Antarctic ice.

A population count is due in 2007 or 2008, and estimates can only be very rough until this is carried out. Best guesses suggest there may be two to four million individuals breeding at South Georgia and 15,000 at Heard Island. The concentrations at South Georgia are the densest aggregations of marine mammals on earth. Some people believe these populations have grown to such levels because the removal of whales by the intensive whaling of the 20th century left a surplus of krill. Other islands in Antarctic waters may have a few hundred to a thousand such seals.


Adult and subadult males may form groups while moulting along the Antarctic Peninsula in late summer and early autumn. Adult females are gregarious but relatively asocial other than the strong bond they establish with their pups, although there are occasional aggressive encounters with nearby females or other pups and brief interactions with adult males to mate. These seals appear to be solitary when foraging and migrating. Females evidently remain at sea continually between breeding seasons, and juveniles may spend several years at sea before returning to natal sites to mate for the first time. The deepest recorded dive is about 180 m deep; the longest dive lasted 10 minutes. The diving ability of pups substantially improves during the first few months of life, and by about four months old their diving patterns are similar to those of adult females. Leopard Seals eat Antarctic Fur Seal pups. Survival of suckling pups may be particularly low in years when krill abundance near a colony is insufficient to allow lactating females to forage effectively.


The breeding system of the Antarctic Fur Seal is polygynous, and dominant breeding males mate with as many as 20 females during a successful season. Adult males establish breeding territories on beaches in late October to mid November, preferably just along the shoreline. They are fiercely territorial during the breeding season and aggressively defend access to estrous females from other males, mostly with stereotyped physical displays, lunges, and vocalizations. These fights can be very damaging. Many bulls die from their wounds. Males may fast during the breeding season for six to eight weeks, losing up to 1.5 kg a day. The gestation period lasts about a year. Females give birth to a single pup between mid November and late December. They mate about 7 to 10 days later and then begin a series of foraging trips at sea that lasts for several days each. In between, they are ashore for one to several days to nurse their pups. Pups are weaned at about four months old.

Interactions with humans

The Antarctic Fur Seal was very heavily hunted in the 18th and 19th centuries for its pelt by sealers from the United States and the United Kingdom. By the early twentieth century, the seal was regarded as commercially extinct, and perhaps completely extinct. In fact a small population continued to exist, breeding on Bird Island in South Georgia. This colony has expanded rapidly over the course of a century. The current populations on the other Antarctic islands are believed to be off-shoots of this one colony.

The species is still protected by the governments in whose waters it resides (Australia, South Africa) and by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals in waters south of 60° S. The animal is also listed in Appendix 2 of CITES. However some governments with interests in the Antarctic, for instance, the United Kingdom, say that some of these protections should be lifted as the species is causing damage to vulnerable Antarctic plants.


1. ^ Aurioles, D. & Trillmich, F. (2008). Arctocephalus gazella. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 29 January 2009.
2. ^ Kindersley, Dorling (2001,2005). Animal. New York City: DK Publishing. ISBN 0-7894-7764-5.

* Randall R. Reeves, Brent S. Stewart, Phillip J. Clapham and James A. Powell (2002). National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0375411410.

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