Northern Fur Seal

Callorhinus ursinus

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

The Northern fur seal is the most widely distributed and abundant pinniped (flipper-footed mammal) in the North Pacific Ocean. This marine mammal species exhibits extreme sexual dimorphism (significant physical differences between males and females). Mature males are up to 3.4 times larger than females before mating and 5.4 times heavier (up to 300 kg heavier) during breeding season. Females typically weigh between 35-45 kg. Northern fur seals are members of the otariid (eared seal) family and exhibit their characteristic external ears (pinnae), long muscular foreflippers, and the ability to turn their rear limbs forward and move on all four limbs. Both sexes have a thick pelage (coat) that consists of a dense cream-coloured underfur and coarse longer guard hairs. Pups are born with black fur, which changes after their first moult. Females are grey-brown with a lighter underbelly, while male Northern fur seals range in colour from black to reddish brown, developing a mane of coarse, longer guard hairs at sexual maturity.

Habitat

There are six established rookery sites in the North Pacific region, where Northern fur seals mate, give birth and nurse their young. At present, the species does not have an established rookery in Canada. The four- to five-month breeding season is followed by a seven- to eight-month pelagic foraging phase, where the animals spend their time feeding mainly in offshore waters. The waters of British Columbia are considered an important foraging area, especially for pregnant females on their return journey to the Alaskan rookeries. The largest numbers occur in waters off British Columbia from January through to June, approximately 20-150 km offshore.

Threats

The Northern fur seal population is abundant and widely distributed, but has been declining at its largest breeding area on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. The factors causing the decline on the Pribilof Islands have not been identified. The availability of suitable prey, principally small-schooling forage fish and pelagic squid. Changes in prey availability could be caused by natural or human-related factors, including ocean climate, commercial fishing, or natural population cycles. Competition between other predators such as sea lions could also impact prey availability to the Northern fur seal population.

Other potential threats include changes in prey availability, entanglement in marine debris, climate change, oil spills and contaminants.

Further Information

Northern fur seals were re-assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in November 2010 as Threatened.

Northern fur seals are currently protected under the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act, which protects the species against hunting or disturbance, except for subsistence use.

Formal consultations on the Species at Risk Act listing process for Northern fur seals take place in November 2012. Fisheries and Oceans Canada invites all First Nations, stakeholders and members of the public to provide their opinions and feedback on the potential listing of the species. For more information, please visit the Species At Risk regional consultations website or the Species at Risk (SARA) Public Registry Profile.

Northern Fur Seal

Northern Fur Seal

Image Credit: A.W. Trites

Scientific name: Callorhinus ursinus
SARA Status: No status
COSEWIC Status: Threatened (2010)
Regions: British Columbia, Pacific Ocean

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