In 1775, Captain James Cook visited the island of South Georgia and reported that “there are great many seals present.” During the 1700’s and 1800’s, the Antarctic Fur Seal was heavily hunted until nearly extinct. It was this quest for seal pelts that led to much of the early exploration of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
Fur seals belong to the group known as the Otarid or “eared” seals. This group contains fur seals and sea-lions that have a visible ear flap. They have a short, broad snout, long whiskers and waterproof fur on their bodies.
Another remarkable trait of the fur seal is that their hind flippers can be used facing forward or backwards. While they are able to propel themselves efficiently in the sea, they are also able to walk and run on land. Their usual food supply is krill, of which each Antarctic fur seal eats about a ton in a year. They also prey on fish and squid.
By 1822 the seal was regarded as commercially extinct with only a small population existing on Bird Island in South Georgia. The species is now protected by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals in waters south of 60° S and its population is expanding.