Right, come on you lot. 19th century sealing nearly wiped us all out, and if we’re not careful, we could still be flattened by disease.
We keep popping out pups and widening our gene pool. So let’s have at it!
For the Bulls:
1) Fight for the land, not the lady
This is mistake number one for the new bull on the block. Yes, she’s a beauty, but what if you miss your chance? You’ll turn around, and find all her friends have loved and left as well. That’s no way to sow your oats!
Instead, find the best birthing site, and make sure the other bulls keep away. Then you’ll be ready to assist whenever your beauty and her lady friends are in the mood for love. How do you find the best site?
2) Let the girls be your guide
The ladies love routine, and will stake out their favourite breeding spots on the rocks, year after year. So don’t worry if you lost out last time – they’ll be back! All you have to do is wait and tussle with the odd love-rival, but that’s why you’re 140 kilos and three times heavier than the ladies, right? And if not, why not? Better pack in some more squid and lantern fish, buddy!
As for what you’re waiting for:
3) Keep your eyes peeled for pups
For a few magical minutes every year, the female fur seal wants your beach-honed, rugged company.
Once she’s popped last year’s pup, stick around. In a couple of days she’ll fancy another one, and why should she look any further than your handsome, conveniently neighbourly bulk? And don’t worry if it doesn’t go to plan on land, we Juan Fernández fur seals have a plan B. Which, for some reason, the other eared seals haven’t thought of yet.
4) Try some underwater love!
You fight for a beach of babes, so why not a lagoon of lovelies? The sun can be blazing, and everyone needs to cool off, especially the busiest ladies. If you scope out the waters near their resting spots and slyly keep those other bulls away, you might get lucky!
And now for the ladies. We know you’re always busy, feeding yourselves and your current sprog, but we haven’t forgotten you.
For the cows:
You’re probably wondering how on Earth you’ll find the time to meet and “greet” a different eligible bachelor each year, with the window of only a few minutes before the sea calls you back. Well, we’ve worked it all out for you.
5) Mate with the nearest male.
Latin: Arctocephalus philippii
What? Second-smallest fur seal.
Where? Three islands on the Juan Fernández Archipelago, and San Félix Islands off the west coast of Chile.
How big? Males are larger at 2 metres / 6.6 feet long, females are 1.42 metres / 4.7 feet long.
Endangered? Currently Least Concern, although they were almost wiped out during the 18th and 19th centuries due to sealing.
Probable motto: Life is a beach. The good kind, these days.
They look cute. Do they need my help at all?
The Juan Fernández fur seal was almost annihilated for its coat in the 19th century, and was believed extinct until the 1960s. Fortunately, when rediscovered, it was granted protection by the Chilean government, and its numbers have slowly clambered back up.
However, due to a genetic bottleneck – being descended from such a small group of survivors – they could still be wiped out by disease. Climate change also affects their food supply, with females having to fish for longer while their pups await their return.
While there are no specific conservation drives for the fur seal, its ocean home is in need of help:
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
Aurioles-Gamboa, D. 2015. “Arctocephalus philippii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” 2015: e.T2059A61953525
Avila, Isabel Cristina et al. 2014. “On the presence of a vagrant Juan Fernández fur seal (Arctocephalus philippii) in the Pacific coast of Colombia: a new extralimital record“. Mastozoología Neotropical.
Boness, Darryl J. and Francis, John M. 1991. “The Effect of Thermoregulatory Behaviour On the Mating System of the Juan Fernández Fur Seal, Arctocephalus philippii“. Behaviour 119(1-2):104-126.
Bruemmer, Fred. 2001. “Comeback on a Castaway’s island“. The National Wildlife Foundation.
Gentry, Roger L. 2009. “Eared seals”, in Encyclopaedia of Marine Mammals. Elsevier.
Handysides, Daniel. No date. “Arctocephalus philippii: Juan Fernandez Fur Seal“. Animal Diversity Web.
Jefferson, Thomas A. et al. 2008. “Marine mammals of the world“. Elsevier.
“Juan Fernandez fur seal“. No date. Oceana.org.
“Juan Fernandez Fur Seals, Arctocephalus philippii”. No date. Marinebio.org.
Mesnick, Sarah L., and Ralls, Katherine. 2009. “Mating systems”, in Encyclopaedia of Marine Mammals. Elsevier.
Ochoa-Acuña, Hugo et al. 1999. “Influence of Long Intersuckling Interval on Composition of Milk in the Juan Fernández Fur Seal, Arctocephalus philippii”. Journal of Mammalogy 80(3):758-767.
Featured image credit: “Arctocephalus philippii” by Daniel Terán