Department of Parks adn Wildlife

What is a New Zealand fur seal? The New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) is an ‘eared’ seal, as can be seen by its ear flaps. It differs from earless or ‘true’ seals such as leopard seals, which have no external ear flaps and cannot use their hind legs when on land – they have to wriggle instead.  

What does it look like? New Zealand fur seal has a more pointed snout than the Australian sea lion and is a darker grey to brown colour. The bulls have mane can weigh 120-180 kilograms and reach up to 2.5 metres in length and are much larger than the cows, which are only 35 to 50 kilograms and only one to 1.5 metres long.  

Fur Seal

Where does it live? The New Zealand fur seal is found in Ngari Capes Marine Park and along other parts of Australia’s southern coast but, as its name suggests, it is found in greatest numbers in New Zealand.  

What they eat and how: This species has a liking for squid, octopus and a variety of schooling fish, which it takes in the water, but sometimes also eats seabirds such as penguins and shearwaters. They mostly feed at night, and rest during the day. Fishing trips may last for several days. 

Behaviour: New Zealand fur seals are wild animals capable of delivering an injury similar to a dog bite. 

Breeding and caring for young: They breed between late November and mid-January, with most pups born in December. Bulls fight for access to females and form ‘harems’ of up to eight cows. Females produce a single black pup about 60 centimetres long. They remain with it for about ten days, then leave to feed at sea, returning regularly to suckle. Pups are weaned within a year.  

Conservation status: New Zealand fur seals had been wiped out from most parts of Western Australia’s southern and western coasts by sealers by the 1850s. Around 1.5 million fur seals are thought to have been killed between 1792 and 1948 in the Australasian region. The sealers, working from small boats, made their way along the southern coast, killing fur seals on the islands and rocky headlands, shooting or clubbing them to death. The thick underfur evolved by the fur seals in response the cold waters of the Southern Ocean increased their commercial value. A single skin could fetch 15 shillings at King George Sound in 1842. Such high returns encouraged unrestrained slaughter, with females, males and even pups all taken by the sealers. A population reappeared on the Flinders Islands near Augusta during the 1980s. New Zealand fur seals reappeared on a small rock off the Leeuwin-Naturaliste coast, in Ngari Capes Marine Park, in small numbers in the mid-1990s. They have been increasing in number there ever since. They have now made their way north to Rottnest Island and Jurien Bay Marine Park.  

Protecting New Zealand fur seals: Boaters should keep well away from rocks on which fur seals haul out, as they can disturb the seals by forcing them to dive into the water. Fur seals occasionally appear on beaches and, if this occurs, people should stay clear of them. Please keep dogs well away from them, with both the seals and dogs at risk of injury. The Ngari Capes Marine Park provides protection and management of the park's two New Zealand fur seal colonies. Threats to the species include oil spills, entanglement in rubbish and nets, and competition with people for resources. Hundreds of New Zealand fur seals in the Archipelago of the Recherche had to be rescued and the oil removed from their fur in an operation lasting several weeks after the wreck of the Sanko Harvest on 14 February 1991.