The Cape Fur Seal

The Cape Fur Seal

Did you know that The Cape Fur seal is now officially called the South African Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus)? They are also known as the Brown fur seal. These species are endemic to South Africa. They are by far the largest and most muscular members of the fur seal family.


More about The Cape Fur seal


This furry species is a marine mammal and is mostly grey-brown in colour, varying from light grey to almost black. They are warm-blooded and are able to regulate their body temperatures in the cold Benguela current. Their fat, called Blubber and two layers of course hair help them to keep warm in the water and it is widely believed that they can spend at least 30% of each month in the sea. They do not migrate but travel long distances along the African Coast.


Cape fur seal swimming by Madelein Wolfaardt


They seem to be such wobbly defenceless creatures on land, with their large bodies shuffling themselves around with their flippers.  But when they are in the water it is the complete opposite. They are built for the sea and are amazingly fast and effective swimmers, as their limb bones are almost withdrawn into their bodies with only the flipper sticking out. They have amazing hunting abilities. Not only are they effective swimmers, but they also have ridges on the soles of their flippers which helps them climb wet and slippery surfaces such as rocks.



Males can weigh up to 350kg and females can reach around 150kg.



Their diet consists of 90% fish which would be mainly sardine, anchovy, hake, gobies, and horse mackerel. An adult Cape fur seal eats roughly 270kg of food a year. 


Colony of cape fur seals by Madelein Wolfaardt


Habitat & Distribution

These species spend the majority of their time in the warmer ocean waters but they also stay close to land. If they are not in the water, they are lazing on the rocks, reefs, and boulder beaches, having a nice time in the sun. 

They are found around the coast's southern and south-western parts, extending from Cape Cross in Namibia, around the Cape of Good Hope to the coast near Port Elizabeth.



Cape Fur seals breeds sometime in mid-October and the season ends around November or December. Males reached sexual maturity at 4-5 years of age but normally don’t start breeding until 8-13 years of age, whereas the female reached maturity at 3-4 years of age. The males will spend 6 weeks on land protecting their harem while living off their fat reserves.

The female will be mated again after 6-10 days of giving birth. The female gestation period is 8 months, but they only give birth at 12 months. The process is called ‘delayed implantation’, whereby the already fertilized egg only begins to generate after a period of 4 months. After giving birth, the female will spend approximately 2-3 days on land and another 3-4 days at sea hunting during the initial 3 months.


Cape fur seal fins by Madelein Wolfaardt


When they return to the colony females will call for their pup and the pup will answer with a unique call. When the females reach their pup they will sniff each other and only the pup that smells right will be fed. At the age of 4-6 months, the puppies no longer rely on their mother's milk for nourishment, although it had been found that a few may continue to nurse for an extended period of 1-2 years. It usually takes about 3 months for seal pups to make their way into the water and swim confidently on their own. The female gives birth to a single pup. 


Did you know?

  • They can dive over 400m and bulls can stay underwater for over 10 minutes and females 7 minutes.

  • Their nostrils are closed and their large eyes can see both forward and to the sides.

  • Cape Fur seals have external ears, something that sets them apart from true seals. 

  • They are called Cape Fur seals because their bodies have 2 layers of fur


Cape fur seal playing by Madelein Wolfaardt


What an interesting species to learn about! I hope you also learned some interesting facts about The Cape Fur seal.

Conservation starts with education. If you like this article, please share it.

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