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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



The New Zealand Fur Seal

The New Zealand fur seal is peculiar to this country, although very similar to a closely related form inhabiting southern Australia and Tasmania. Little research has been done and the true status, habits, food, and numbers of the New Zealand fur seal are almost unknown. It appears at present to be thriving and increasing. Two small breeding colonies are known in the South Island, and several non-breeding accumulations of animals are reported; larger breeding colonies are known on the Chatham, Snares, and Auckland Islands, and breeding may also occur on Campbell and Macquarie Islands. Population may number from 40,000 to 50,000. Mature bulls are between 6 and 7 ft long. Cows and young bulls seldom exceed 5ft. The fur is grey-brown, with a dense buff, stone-coloured, or reddish under-pelt; nose and flippers are dark brown shading to black. The tiny pointed ears, almost hidden among the head fur, and the forward-pointing hind flippers are diagnostic of the family Otariidae to which this species belongs. The rich fur, sharply pointed muzzle, and swept-back whiskers distinguish it from the sea lion, which it otherwise resembles in shape and character. Fur seals are most characteristically seen on rocky headlands and reefs, where they drape themselves in seemingly comfortless positions for sleep. Quarrelsome and aggressive amongst themselves, they are uneasy in the presence of man and usually move back into the sea when he approaches. In the water their powerful shoulders and foreflippers propel them with speed and great manoeuvrability; the hind feet, which are used much in walking over the rocks, play a lesser role when the animals are swimming.