Recent Subantarctic fur seal stranding at Haga-Haga

A number of vagrant Subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) records have been noted during the past decade. The first was an adult male of the species (which has a conspicuous tuft of raised hair on the crown) which hauled out east of the Nahoon River (May 2007, Blue Bend Nature Reserve, East London). The animal returned to the sea after having spent a night resting on the shore.

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Museum scientist Kevin Cole with the male Subantarctic fur seal and Blue Bend May 2007

A second record for a sub-Antarctic seal along our coastline during this period was at Kidd’s Beach on the 4th September 2013. This female seal may have returned to the sea.

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Kidd’s Beach female Subantarctic fur seal. Photo credit: Judy Brown and Nigel Dunmore

A immature Subantarctic fur seal was reported alive from Bira (a seaside hamlet west of East London) during the month of August 2016. Unfortunately it did not survive.

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The Bira immature Subantarctic seal. Photo credit: Lynne Arnett

The most recent record was reported from Haga-Haga last week (Tuesday 20th June 2017). Rough seas the previous weekend were logged. This young female also hauled out alive, very fatigued and emaciated. The East London Museum visited the site the following day and noted that the animal had died. The body was retrieved for further study at the request of Bayworld Museum curator of Marine Mammals, Dr Greg Hofmeyr. The seal measured 1.22 m (weighing approximately 20 kg’s) and showed no signs of any physical trauma. The adult length for the female of the species is 1.4 m weighing between 25 and 55 kg’s.

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The immature Subantarctic fur seal which hauled out at Haga-Haga being investigated by museum scientist Kevin Cole

The sub-Antarctic fur seal is distinguished from our local seal by the creamy white colour of the throat and chest which extends upwards to the level of the ears and continues around the eyes and across the bridge of the nose.

The population of these seals is estimated to be between 280 000-350 000. They have been recorded diving to a depth of 208 meters and being underwater for 6.5 minutes. They have a lifespan of approximately 25 years.

Another species of fur seal (other than our local species, Arctocephalus pusillus) is the Antarctic fur seal, Arctocepahlus gazella.  The bulls of Antarctic fur seals are generally dark brown with grizzled silver-white hair on the convex of the crown. The pinnae are relatively long, very prominent and bare at the tip. They do hybridise with Subantarctic and New Zealand Fur Seals.

Mr Bryan Church (Strandloper Trail Manager) and Ms Siani Tinley (Chief Marine Services, Buffalo City) are thanked for reporting the latest find.

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About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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