Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus

KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)

PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)

CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)

ORDER: Carnivora (Carnivores)

FAMILY: Otariidae (Eared seals)

SUB-FAMILY: Arctocephalinae (Fur seals)

GENUS: Arctocephalus (Fur seals)

SPECIES: Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus (South African fur seal)


South African fur seals are native to southern and western South Africa and Namibia.

The South African fur seal has a fusiform body (tapered at both ends) with a large head and pointed snout at one end, and large hindflippers on the other end. On their head, they have external ear flaps, large eyes and long whiskers. Both front and back flippers are paddle-shaped and wide, and appear black when wet. The fur is dark gray to brown and has two layers; a lighter brown inside layer, insulating the seal, and an outer, darker layer for waterproofing.

South African fur seals prefer rocky coasts and colder waters. They feed out in the open sea, and return to land to rest and breed, usually on rocky islands.

The South African fur seal is a carnivore (meat-eater). They eat mostly pelagic schooling fish (such as pilchard, anchovies, hake and mackerel) as well as squid, octopus, lobsters, along with other crustaceans and cephalopods.

These seals are social animals and live in large groups (called colonies) of up to 3000 bulls. Colonies are made up of smaller groups of ‘harems’ where one male has dominance over a group of multiple females.

South African fur seals are polygynous (males have more than one female as a mate at one time). Males arrive on beaches before females and fight over and establish territories (with the best possible resources) in order to attract females.

After a gestation period of about 1 year (which includes a period of delayed implantation), a single pup is born. After the pup is born, the mother will divide her time between going foraging at sea and attending to her pup.

Pups are weaned at about a year old. Sexual maturity is reached at about 3-6 years old, but males are not able to hold down a harem until they’re about 8 years old. They can live up to about 18 years.

South African fur seals are preyed on by sharks and orcas (killer whales). Pups on the mainland are also taken by the jackals and hyenas.

These seals are vulnerable to oil spills and other forms of environmental damage. Pollution of the South African fur seal’s habitat with pesticides, heavy metals and noise disturbance are also threats.

Did you know?

  • South African fur seals were hunted for their pelts
  • Pups are black with curly fur
  • South African fur seals are a subspecies of brown fur seal and are closely related to Australian fur seals
  • Seals are very intelligent and can easily be taught behaviours
  • They seal up their nostrils and ears when diving



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