Visiting the Australian Fur Seals at Melbourne Zoo is an exciting opportunity to engage with these endearing animals.
Now protected, this species was hunted almost to extinction in earlier centuries. They are still at risk from humans, who sometimes (illegally) shoot them for bait, in the belief that they interfere with fishing operations, or to attract sharks for tourist viewing. They are also at risk from oils spills and entanglement in nets and other plastics dumped in waterways. Despite some remaining threats, numbers are thought to be increasing. They are classed as ‘least concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’).
Your visit helps to fight species extinction. Visiting the seals at Melbourne Zoo is an opportunity not only to see these delightful animals, but also to learn about the threats to Australian species, and how Zoos Victoria is contributing to the fight to conserve these species. You can also help by supporting Seal the Loop, which distributes specially designed bins around Victorian coastal areas to collect fishing waste and reduce rates of marine wildlife entanglement.
This seal is found around the coast of south-eastern Australia in the waters off Tasmania, Victoria and Bass Strait, as far east as southern New South Wales and as far west as Port Fairy. They breed in colonies on rocky islands in Bass Strait. Two major breeding sites are Seal Rocks near Phillip Island and Lady Julia Percy Island, near Warrnambool.
The Australian Fur Seal, along with the Cape Fur Seal, is the largest of the fur seals. Males (bulls) are approximately 2–2.3 metres long and weigh 218–360kg, and females (cows) are approximately 1.5 metres long and 36–113kg.
Bulls are dark greyish-brown with a mane of coarse hair. Cows and immature seals are silver-grey to brown with a creamy yellow throat and chest.
They are called fur seals because they have two layers of fur: the outer layer of dark guard hairs is on top, with an undercoat so light, thick and dense that the skin stays dry even when the animal is underwater.
Australian Fur Seals belong to the group of seals called otariidae, or eared seals. They have external ear flaps. Their front legs are flippers and their hind legs are rear-facing, which means they can swivel under the body for rapid movement on land.
The seals moult, breed, and rest on land, congregating on rock platforms, reefs, and rocky or pebbly beaches. They also use structures such as beacons and oil platforms as ‘land’ at sea.
They move swiftly in water, diving to up to 200m, but more awkwardly on land; they need to lift the front of their bodies and manoeuvre using their flippers.
Australian Fur Seals eat fish, squid, lobster and cuttlefish.
Australian Fur Seals form breeding colonies during the breeding season from October to December. Females usually have a single pup, which has its first months in the relative warmth of the Australian summer. They wean at around 11 months.