Cape Fur Seals are found in False Bay, particularly along the Gordon’s Bay Coastline and Seal Island all year round. We often see them on our ocean safaris and they are frequent visitors to us on many of our scuba dives.
We enjoy observing them – but how much do we really know about them? Find out more about these entertaining (and often cute to watch) characters, here:
- There are two subspecies of the Fur Seal – the South African, or Cape Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) and the Australian Fur Seal (A. pusillus doriferus).
- Fur seals get their name from their pelts, which are much thicker than those of other seal species who only have a thin covering of hair.
- Adult male Cape Fur Seals are dark grey to brown, with a darker mane of short, coarse hairs and a light belly. Adult females are light brown to grey, with a light throat and a darker back and belly.
- Pups are born black and moult to beautiful olive-grey pelts towards the end of February and May. For centuries, pups were hunted for their black pelts and their olive-grey coats. The adult’s fur was too thick to be suitable for the fur industry.
- The Cape Fur Seal can be found between Cape Cross on the coast of Namibia, along the Cape coastline, all the way to Black Rocks in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
- There are 25 recorded breeding areas, the largest being Kleinzee near Port Nolloth. The Cape Fur Seals of False Bay prefer to breed on rocky islands (such as Seal Island) and rocky ledges (along the cliffs of Gordon’s Bay), although some breed on pebble and boulder beaches and sandy shores.
- Adult males arrive at the breeding sites between late October and early November and fight aggressively for territory until the females come ashore. The territories of the “ruling” males can contain between 7 and 30 females. The seals stay in these territories for about 6 weeks.
- Females give birth to a single pup between mid-November and late December and during this time, we often see these tiny, newborn pups sunning themselves on the cliffs along the Gordon’s Bay coastline.
- Six days after giving birth, the females mate again and start going out to sea to feed. They spend 3 – 4 days feeding at sea, followed by about 2 ½ days suckling their pups on land. Female Cape Fur Seals nurse their pups for 8 – 10 months.
- The population size is estimated to be 1.5 – 2 million, with about 2/3 of this being in Namibia.
- Adult males measure between 1.8 – 2.3m in length and weigh between 200 and 360 kg while adult females measure 1.2 – 1.7m in length and weigh 35 – 110kg. Pups are born measuring 60 – 80cm in length, weighing 5 – 6 kg.
- South African fur seals have been known to dive to over 400m. Although they spend most of their time at sea, Cape Fur Seals are never too far from land.
- Cape Fur Seals can live up to 25 years of age.
- 70% of the Cape Fur Seal’s diet is made up of fish and crayfish (west coast rock lobster), with 20% being squid / octopus. We often see them smashing octopus on the surface of the water to “tenderise” them before they eat them. Cape Fur Seals have also been observed eating birds and smaller sharks.
- The Cape Fur Seal’s main predators in False Bay include the great white shark and Orcas.
- At Seal Island in False Bay, we have observed the seals using various anti-predatory tactics, including:
- Swimming in large groups and harassing sharks;
- Darting in different directions to confuse their attackers;
- Using great agility to stay out of reach;
- Riding near the dorsal fins of their attackers to keep away from their jaws.
- Apart from their natural predators, the biggest threat to seals in False Bay are humans. Not only through the increase in plastic and pollution, but also through fishing in False Bay. Although bottom trawling (purse-seine) for shoaling fish does not affect the seals, line fishermen lose a lot of their catch to seals. Because of this, most fishermen see them as robbing them of their livelihood and many seals are shot illegally each year from fishing boats.
- It’s really important to remember that when encountering these creatures – whether it be on land or in the water, you are in their territory. Treat them with respect and caution, no matter how cute and friendly they may seem, they are wild animals and you are in their domain.
- The hunting of Cape Fur Seals was stopped in 1990 and the Sea Birds and Seals Protection Act of 1973 gives complete protection to seals – but allows the government to grant permits to kill fur seals at specific colonies.
Join us on one of our ocean safaris and come see the seals of False Bay with us!