The Cape Fur Seal or African Fur Seal is the largest of all the fur seal varieties. Its stocky, strong body is covered with a velvety dark grey or brown fur, for which it is often brutally hunted.
The males measure an average of 2.3 m in length, while females are around 1.8 m long.
Male Cape Fur Seals weigh between 200 and 300 kg and females usually come in at about 120 kg.
When they are not in the warmer ocean waters of South Africa, they are lazing on the rocks, reefs and boulder beaches, soaking up the sun. While the majority of their time is spent in the water, they tend to stay close to land.
The African Fur Seal is found around the southern and south-western parts of the coast; extending from Cape Cross in Namibia, around the Cape of Good Hope to the coast near Port Elizabeth.
Where to see them in South Africa
You can usually see seals at the V&A Waterfront, on boat trips from Hout Bay, at the Kalk Bayharbour, in Gansbaai and Plettenberg Bay, and along the Cape West Coast.
A number of Cape Town operators specialise in taking visitors to see the seals on cruises off the Cape Peninsula. Quite a few also offer underwater snorkelling and swimming experiences with seals.
Diet – Carnivores
The Cape Fur Seal is a carnivore, feeding only on other animals. Almost three-quarters of its diet is made up of fish, while about 20% is squid and the remaining amount crabs and other crustaceans. Occasionally, the seal will snatch and eat birds from the shore too.
The Cape Fur Seal is curious and known for approaching humans and boats to explore them. They will also accompany SCUBA divers, playfully swimming and interacting with them. However, on land, they are far more cautious.
They travel is small groups for the purposes of feeding. During the breeding season, females will fight amongst themselves over land-based territory in which they can give birth. When females occupy the larger territory of a male, they are considered to be part of his harem, despite the fact that they are free to come and go without hindrance from him.
Males establish their territories during the breeding season, when they claim their land by means of sparring, displays and even sometimes-violent confrontations.
The mating season usually takes place in mid-October, during which time the males will fast until the season is over (around November or December). After birth, the mothers spend most of their time on land, caring for their pups, with occasional trips into the ocean to get food. These trips to the sea can last about a week in winter and four days in summer. On her return to land, the mother will call her pups with her unique voice and manner.
Pups are weaned at 4 to 6 weeks of age. Females mature sexually at around 3 years old, while males are only considered to be sexually mature at between 9 and 12 years of age.
The gestation period of the Cape Fur Seal is about 11.75 months on average.
This seal has an average life expectancy of 20 years.
The main predator threatening the Cape Fur Seal is the mighty Great White Shark, which favours it for its high blubber content. Orcas are also known for hunting these seals. When on the shore, jackals and hyenas have been known to snatch the seals and their pups. In Namibia, humans remain a major threat to the Cape Fur Seal, which is hunted for its beautiful fur.