June 30 - July 6, 2013: Issue 117

Week Long Storms Bring Australian Fur Seal to Rest at Bilgola

 Australian Fur Seal Resting at Bilgola – 29th of June, 2013

This Australian fur seal, photographed by Tamara Sloper Harding on Saturday afternoon sheltering and resting at Bilgola, is a sure sign of how rough our weather has been this week. Huge swells and incessant downpours are taking their toll on our wildlife, so please be careful if you have little birds coming to shelter under your roof eaves or find those who are normally safe in the sea coming to land for shelter. Should you find any animal in distress, please don’t distress it further by approaching it too closely (less then 40 metres) and call the National Parks and Wildlife Service (9895 7128), Sydney Wildlife (9413 4300) or WIRES (1300 094 737) to report a critter in need or your local vet for advice. 

Please don't all rush down to Bilgola beach and scare this darling; enjoy Tamara's pictures here instead and let her rest.

Seals are protected in New South Wales. It is an offence to interfere with or approach within 40 metres of an adult and 80 metres of a pup seal or sea lion. Maximum penalties for indiviudals include fines of up to $110, 000. 00 and imprisonment for two years.

Australian Fur Seal

The  Australian fur seal  (Arctocephalus pusillus), also known as the Cape fur seal, South African fur seal and the Brown Fur Seal is a species of fur seal. Fur seals are any of nine species of pinnipeds in the Otariidae family. One species, the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) inhabits the North Pacific, while seven species in the Arctocephalus genus are found primarily in the Southern Hemisphere. They are much more closely related to sea lions than true seals, and share with them external ears (pinnae), relatively long and muscular foreflippers, and the ability to walk on all fours.

The fur seal is the largest and most robust fur seal. It has a large and broad head with a pointed snout that may be flat or upturned slightly. They have external ear flaps (pinnae) and their whiskers (vibrissae) are long, and may extend backward past the pinnae, especially in adult males. The foreflippers are covered with sparse hair over about three-quarters of their length. The hindflippers are short relative to the large body, with short, fleshy tips on the digits. The size and weight of a fur seal depends on the subspecies. The Southern African subspecies is on average slightly larger than the Australian subspecies. Males of the African subspecies (A. p. pusillus) are 2.3 metres (7.5 ft) in length on average and weigh from 200–300 kilograms (440–660 lb). Females are smaller, averaging 1.8 metres (5.9 ft) in length and weighing an average of 120 kilograms (260 lb). Males of the Australian subspecies (A. p. doriferus) are 2–2.2 metres (6.6–7.2 ft) in length and weigh 190–280 kilograms (420–620 lb). Females are 1.2–1.8 metres (3.9–5.9 ft) length and weigh 36–110 kilograms (79–240 lb). 

Adult male brown fur seals are dark grey to brown, with a darker mane of short, coarse hairs and a light belly, while adult females are light brown to grey, with a light throat and darker back and belly. The fore flippers of the fur seal are dark brown to black. Pups are born black and moult to grey with a pale throat within three to five months. The skull of the African subspecies has a larger crest between the mastoid process and the jugular process of the exoccipital. 

The Australian fur seal lives in Bass Strait, at four islands off Victoria in south-eastern Australia and five islands off Tasmania. Clearly this one has drifted or swam a long way from home for some reason and now needs to rest before it can return. Hopefully conditions will lessen from the storm fronts we have seen all this week

Fur seals prefer to haul out and breed on rocky islands, rock ledges and reefs, and pebble and boulder beaches. However, some large colonies can be found on sandy beaches. Fur seals spend most of the year at sea, but are never too far from land. They have been recorded 160 km from land, but this is not common.

The gentle and beautiful Australian fur seals were hunted intensively between 1798 and 1825 for commercial reasons. Seal hunting stopped in Australia in 1923, and their population is still recovering. 

If you come across any marine wildlife on our beaches, please contact the following volunteer organisations:

For Seals hauling out, please contact: ORRCA www.orrca.org.au 24/7 hotline: 02 9415 3333

For penguins, turtles and birds found on our beaches, please contact: Sydney Wildlife www.sydneywildlife.org.au 24/7 hotline 02 9413 4300

 Pictures by Tamara Sloper-Harding, Text by Alison Guesdon, 2013.