Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus
The Cape Fur Seal is the only seal that is native to the continent of Africa, being found from Namibia’s Atlantic coast to Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast (rarely further east to East Londen). They live in coastal waters, roaming up to 160km from the coastline, and prey mainly on schooling fishes like sardines and mackarel, octopuses, chokka (a type of squid), crabs, lobsters and other invertebrates. While hunting the seals can dive up to 200m deep and stay submerged for up to 8 minutes!
Cape Fur Seal breeding colonies are usually located on rocky islands and shores, though there are a few on sandy beaches. Bulls establish their territories from mid-October in preparation of the cows arriving about a month later, first to give birth to a single pup and then to mate with the “beach master” – the bull in control of that territory and the harem of cows in it – about a week later. The harems break up by end of December when all the females of reproductive age have been mated. The pups can’t swim until they’re about 3 months old and are prone to drowning after being struck of the rocks by freak waves or being caught by land-based predators like jackals and hyenas. Adult bull seals, at 2.4m in length and up to 360kg in weight, are much bigger than the cows who weigh up to 115kg. They may live to about 18-21 years of age in the wild, though even adults may fall prey to sharks and killer whales.
Several operators use the Hout Bay harbour near Cape Town to conduct sight-seeing tours of about an hour to the large seal colony at Duiker Island. During our December 2022 tour of the Western Cape we booked ourselves on the Calypso operated by Circe Launches for one such trip, and found the company a thoroughly professional outfit that we’d gladly recommend and certainly use again ourselves.