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Alaska fur seal picture and information (Callorhinus alascanus)


Alaska fur seal picture and information (Callorhinus alascanus)Several species of fur seals are known, all of them limited to the southern oceans or the coasts and islands of the North Pacific. All are strongly gregarious and formerly sought their island breeding grounds in vast numbers. At one period, soon after the purchase of Alaska, it was estimated that several million fur seals were on the Pribilof Islands in one season.

During the height of their abundance the southern fur seals were equally numerous. The value of their skins and the facility with which these animals may be slaughtered have resulted in the practical extermination of all but those which breed tinder governmental protec­tion on the Russian islands off the coast of Kamchatca and on the Pribilof Islands in Alaska.

The Alaska fur seal is a migratory species, wintering down the Pacific coast as far as northern California. The migrations of these seals are of remark,able interest. In spring they leave the northwest coast and many of them travel steadily across more than two thousand miles of the North Pacific. For days at a time they swim through a roaring galeswept sea, under dense, low-hanging clouds, and with unerring certainty strike certain passages in the Aleutian Islands, through which they press to their breeding grounds, more than 100 miles beyond, on the small, fog-hidden Pribilof Islands.

Fur seals are extremely polygamous and the old males, which weigh from 400 to 500 pounds, "haul up" first on the breeding beaches. Each bull holds a certain area, and as the females, only one-fifth his size, come ashore they are appropriated by the nearest bulls until each "beach master" gathers a harem, sometimes containing more than 100 members.

Here the young are born, and after the mating season the seals, which have remained ashore without food from four to six weeks, return to the water. The mothers go and come, and each is able to find her young with certainty among thousands of apparently identical woolly black "pups."

From the ages of one to four years fur seals are extremely playful. They are marvelous swimmers and frolic about in pursuit of one another, now diving deep and then, one after the other, suddenly leaping high above the surface in graceful curves, like porpoises. Squids and fish of various species are their main food. Their chief natural enemy is the killer whale, which follows their migrations and haunts the sea about their breeding grounds, taking heavy toll among them.

Since the discovery of the Pribilof Islands by the Russians the fur seal herds there have vielded more than five million recorded skins. A census of the herds in 1914 gave these islands nearly three hundred thousand seals. Now that pelagic sealing has been suppressed and the herds are being protected, there is every reason to expect that the seals will increase rapidly to something like their former numbers.