The Subantarctic Fur Seal is a sea living mammal that usually occurs in the chilly waters of the southern Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Finding one on the much more tropical beach at Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on South Africa’s north-eastern coast, thousands of kilometers from where it belongs, was therefore a very unexpected surprise! Why and how exactly some seals roam so widely outside their usual range still is not really understood, but vagrants of this species has been recorded in South Africa before and even as far north as the Tanzanian coast. When we first noticed this individual it was lying far up the beach, trying its best to stay out of a strong wind, but I later noticed it enjoying the swell at the incoming tide. While to my opinion our visitor looked in good, energetic health I did alert the Park authorities as soon as I had connectivity again just in case they wanted to have a look themselves, as these long distance swimmers are often very tired and underfed by the time they reach our shore and are then looked after at a specialised rehabilitation centre until they can be shipped back to their natural homes.
Subantarctic Fur Seals live and breed around and on tiny islands just north of the Antarctic Polar Front at roughly 60°S latitude, including the South African territory of the Prince Edward islands. Fully grown males, at 1.8m long and 160kg in weight, is much larger than the females, which weigh only about 50kg. They feed mainly on fish and squid. Pups are born in the southern summer (most of them in December). It is estimated that they can live to 25 years of age in the wild.
With a population estimated at around 200,000 adults and considered to be stable, the IUCN lists the Subantarctic Fur Seal as being of least concern. This is a wonderful improvement as they were extensively hunted for their pelts in the 1800’s.