Two Critters Common in Antarctic Waters


Fur Seals and Whales are widely distributed in the Southern Ocean within the Antarctic Convergence – the zone of water between the frigid waters of the true Antarctic and more temperate waters to the north. Most of the Fur Seal population breeds on South Georgia Island, and other nearby sub-Antarctic islands.

Fur Seals average 6-7 feet in length and weigh 200-250 pounds, and up to 400 lb. for the males. Their diet includes krill, squid and fish. The males tend to live about 15 years, while females live to 25 years on average. Antarctic Fur Seals are an example of seals that can walk on land, because of their ability to turn their rear flippers forward, converting them into useful “feet”.

Generally Fur Seals are a solo act outside of mating season although they will congregate in vast numbers on beaches near good feeding grounds in the autumn and early winter, often near penguin colonies. Breeding season begins in late October through December. Males fight extremely aggressively, with some encounters resulting in death, for the right to rule harems of up to 20 females (who wouldn’t?). Once they’ve established a harem, males are unwilling to leave them unprotected and will stay on land for up to 2 months without feeding. When the females arrive they are already pregnant from the previous year’s season, and give birth in November and December. The females mate about a week after giving birth. The pups are nursed by their mothers for about 4 months. Once they have learned to swim they usually stay at sea a number of years until they reach sexual maturity, at which point they return to land to join the others during the mating season.

Fur Seals’ natural predators are Sharks and Killer Whales, while the pups are vulnerable to Leopard Seals.

Whales most commonly found in the Southern Ocean are Humpback, Fin, with lesser numbers of Blue Whales. They are after the tremendous schools of high-protein krill.

Though I didn’t get to witness this, Orcas are known to hunt in packs, seeking out Fur Seals on small icebergs. Surrounding the iceberg, they repeatedly swim under it in unison, until the iceberg either tips, or breaks up as a result of the vibration created by the Orcas, at which point they grab the Fur Seal.

Fur Seals, when on shore, are readily visible; they often hang out near penguin colonies. Whales, on the other hand, are generally visible only at greater distances, or occasionally when they happen to surface very close.

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