In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.
|EPBC Act Listing Status||Listed marine|
|Adopted/Made Recovery Plans|
Documents and Websites
|Scientific name||Arctocephalus pusillus |
This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.
Scientific name: Arctocephalus pusillus
Common name: Australian Fur-seal
Other names: Australo-African Fur-seal
The Australian Fur-seal is considered to have two subspecies: Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, the Australian Fur-seal; and A. p. pusillus, the Cape or South African Fur-seal. Recent research (skull morphometrics and DNA) indicates that the taxonomic classification of Arctocephalus may require revision (Brunner 1998, 2000; Lento et al. 1994, 1997; Repenning et al. 1971; Wynen et al. 2000). Unless otherwise specified, the information in this profile refers to the Australian subspecies.
Adult female Australian Fur-seals (cows) average 125—170 cm in length and weigh between 50—120 kg. Cows are slender, silvery-grey on the back, with a creamy-yellow throat and chest, and a chocolate brown belly (Tas. DPIWE 2005).
Adult male Australian Fur-seals (bulls) are significantly larger than females, growing 200—225 cm and weighing 220—360 kg. Bulls are usually dark grey/brown, and have a mane of coarse hair on their neck and shoulders. Newborn pups are almost black on the back and grey/light-brown on the belly, and moult after three months (Tas. DPIWE 2005).
Their dense coat consists of woolly underfur and long, coarse outer hairs that trap air, which waterproof and insulate the animal. Like all seals, Australian Fur-seals moult each year, replacing their old fur with a new layer. A layer of fat beneath the skin assists with warmth and streamlining (Tas. DPIWE 2005).
Australian Fur-seals have similar dentition (arrangement, number and type of teeth) to dogs or bears. Like all members of the family Otariidae (fur-seals and sea lions) they can raise their body onto their front flippers to move around on land (Australian Museum 2003).
There are 10 established breeding colonies of the Australian Fur-seal, which are restricted to islands in the Bass Strait; six occurring off the coast of Victoria and four off the coast of Tasmania (Kirkwood et al. 2010; Pemberton & Kirkwood 1994; Warneke 1995b). The largest of the established colonies occur at Lady Julia Percy Island (25.9% of the breeding population) and at Seal Rocks (25.5% of the breeding population), both of which occur in Victoria (Kirkwood et al. 2010; Shaughnessy et al. 2002). Kirkwood and colleagues (2010) identify three additional developing breeding colonies, specifically: Wright Rocks (Tasmania), Double Island (Tasmania) and North Casuarina Island (South Australia).
Historically, Australian Fur-seal breeding colonies were more widespread, but several islands have not been occupied since their populations were removed by early commercial sealing (Warneke & Shaughnessy 1985). In NSW, for example, the Australian Fur-seal is reported to have bred at Seal Rocks, near Port Stephens, but no longer occurs here (Shaughnessy et al. 1995b, 2000; Warneke 1982). Pups have been born occasionally at Montague Island, on the southern NSW coast, and many non-breeding animals are known to congregate there (Shaughnessy et al. 2001).
The greater range of the Australian Fur-seal also includes South Australia, southern Tasmania and Jervis Bay Territory, with several haul-out sites known in each state (Brothers & Pemberton 1990; Fortescue in Shaughnessy 1999; Shaughnessy 2000).
The extent of occurrence of the Australian Fur-seal is estimated to be 132 000 km² (Shaughnessy 2000).
The area of occupancy of the Australian Fur-seal is estimated to be 19 000 km² (Shaughnessy 2000).
In July 2002, three satellite transmitters were deployed on live-caught male Australian Fur-seals in order to understand the foraging behavior of seals feeding within fishing grounds off the south-west coast of Tasmania (Goldsworthy et al. 2002). Two of the transmitters operated for less than 25 days before their batteries failed, while the third operated for 109 days (Goldsworthy et al. 2002). Results indicated that the three seals remained within the fishing grounds (the area of capture) to feed. They also periodically travelled to Reid Rocks, off the north-west tip of Tasmania, to rest (Goldsworthy et al. 2002). This study also described a new capture method - the vessel capture method - which proved to be an effective and economic way to deploy instruments and transmitters (Goldsworthy et al. 2002).
The most recent (2007) estimate of pup numbers was given by Kirkwood and colleagues (2010), based on a combination of survey techniques (aerial photography, direct ground counts and capture-mark-resight), placed the total number of Australian Fur-seal pups at 26 000. In 2002, a total of 19 819 pups was estimated for the species (Kirkwood et al. 2005), using much the same techniques as those used in 2007. This increase suggests that the recovery of the species is likely to be continuing and their vulnerability may be decreasing (Kirkwood et al. 2010).
Application of population estimators to translate pup numbers to population size for the species results in a conservative estimate of 120 000 individuals in total (Kirkwood et al. 2010).
Despite the recent increases, the total population in Australia is likely to be considerably smaller now than it was historically, and may only be around half or two-thirds of its original size (Pemberton & Gales 2004). Currently, numbers of Australian Fur-seals remain low relative to other fur-seal populations, with Australian Fur-seals being less numerous by an order of magnitude compared with their South African counterparts (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus).
Population surveys have shown that estimates of the minimum number of pups born at the major colonies varies considerably between sites and years, suggesting that populations of Australian Fur-seals undergo natural fluctuations in numbers (Pemberton & Gales 2004). However, extreme fluctuations (fluctuations greater than one order of magnitude) have not been reported (Shaughnessy 2000).
The Australian Fur-seal prefers the rocky parts of islands. On Kangaroo Island in South Australia, where New Zealand and Australian Fur-seals co-occur, the Australian Fur-seals occupy flatter, more open parts of the colony (Shaughnessy 1999).
For foraging, the Australian Fur-seal prefers to utilise oceanic waters of the continental shelf and generally does not dive deeper than 150 m.
Australian Fur-seal colonies are occupied year-round, but the intensity of behavioural interactions between individuals is greatest during the summer breeding season (Warneke 1995a).
Australian Fur-seals breed during the summer months, with pups born from late October to late December. At Seal Rocks, Victoria, 90% of pups were born in a 26-day period with a median date of 1 December (Warneke & Shaughnessy 1985) with pup numbers reaching their maximum on 16 December (Warneke 1988). At Tenth Island, Tasmania, in 1990, the median date of birth was 26 November, with 90% of pups born over a 48-day period (Pemberton & Kirkwood 1994).
At birth, pups weigh between 5—12 kg, and are 60—80 cm long (Warneke 1995a). Adult females give birth soon after coming ashore, mate about six days after giving birth, and then leave the colony to feed. For several months, the females alternate periods of feeding at sea with shore attendance suckling their pups. There is considerable variation in the time of weaning. Most pups begin to forage effectively, supplementing their milk diet, in June or July (6—7 months old). Most are weaned by September or October, but a small proportion continues to suckle into their second year or even longer (Warneke & Shaughnessy 1985).
Females become sexually mature between 3—6 years of age and males begin holding territories at 8—13 years of age. The interval between births is one year and the gestation period is 8—9 months, following a period of delayed implantation of three to four months (Warneke 1995a).
The Australian Fur-seal feeds principally on fish and cephalopods (octopus and squid), but will also take seabirds (Warneke & Shaughnessy 1985). The primary squid species taken in Tasmanian waters is Gould's Squid (Nototodarus gouldi) (Gales et al. 1993). Dietary analysis has shown that of 25—38 species of fish identified, only a few were specific to any particular location or found only in a particular season (Gales & Pemberton 1994; Littnan et al. 2007). The most important fish-prey are Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus), Redbait (Emmelichthys nitidus nitidus) and Leatherjacket (Monocanthidae family). Fish have been found to dominate the diet in winter, while cephalopods dominated in summer (Littnan et al. 2007). Prey sizes indicated that adult fish and squid were mostly eaten.
Lactating female Australian Fur-seals in the northern Bass Strait have been found to forage exclusively within the shallow waters over the continental shelf of the Bass Strait. The water in this area has a depth of 60–80 m and a sea surface temperature of 16.0–16.8 ºC (Arnould & Kirkwood 2008).
Australian Fur-seals are known to feed at fishing boats (Shaughnessy 1999), making them vulnerable to interactions with fisheries equipment such as nets, lines, hooks and traps. Seals in the fishing grounds in western Tasmania feed on Blue Grenadier (Macruronus novaezelandiae), which is commercially fished in this area (Goldsworthy et al. 2002). Seals compete with fishers for fish that are the same size as those that are commercially targeted and conflicts between fishers and seals had been the cause of seal culls in the past. While culls are not considered appropriate now, there is an ongoing issue of seal bycatch in fisheries which target the Australian Fur-seal's preferred prey (Goldsworthy & Page 2007).
Australian Fur-seal numbers on Montague Island, NSW, fluctuate through the year, with peak numbers occurring in September and October. This reflects the northward migration over the winter, and the subsequent return to the breeding colonies of the Bass Strait in late spring (Irvine et al. 1997; Shaughnessy et al. 2001).
Male fur seals have also been tracked via satellite travelling along the west coast of Tasmania, from the Maatsuyker Island area in the south, to Seal Rocks in Victoria (Goldsworthy et al. 2002).
The majority of Australian Fur-seal colonies and haul-out sites are well-known and well-documented (Kirkwood et al. 2010). Due to the mobility and foraging requirements of Australian Fur-seals, they may occur in areas up to 500 km from a colony (Littnan & Arnould 2002). Foraging appears to peak in Autumn and Winter (Lyle & Willcox 2008), when both males and females are building up their energy reserves for the pupping season (October to December) and females are maintaining milk reserves for their young which they continue to suckle.
The nature of the survey and availability of desktop data will determine the manner of survey technique and effort required for the Australian Fur-seal. Pupping sites and colonies may be surveyed and/or monitoried using techniques such as: aerial photography, ground counts and capture-mark-resight. Survey of waters where Australian Fur-seals may occur could be carried out using techniques such as boat-based transects.
A novel seal-catching method was trialed during a satellite tracking survey conducted by Goldsworthy and colleagues (2002). The 'vessel capture' method used a suspended dip-net attached to a crane. Fish are thrown from the vessel into a net suspended one to two metres below the water surface, and seals were lured into the submerged net. Most seals were quick enough to escape the net; however, some individuals were distracted long enough to be caught. The seal was then pulled on board the vessel and sedated while a satellite transmitter was glued to the animal's dorsal midline before it was released (Goldsworthy et al. 2002).
Commercial and recreational fishing may regard Fur-seals as competitors and pests (Shaughnessy 1999). Fishermen in Victoria claimed that seals drastically reduce stocks of commercially viable fish (a claim that was not substantiated by evidence from fishery statistics or by dietary studies [Warneke 1982]). However, seals are known to interfere with sedentary mesh-net fisheries by damaging nets, mauling fish and allowing them to escape (Warneke 1982). Seals that interfere with fishing gear may be shot by commercial and recreational fishermen, but there is no information regarding the extent of current illegal culling (Pemberton & Shaughnessy 1993; Shaughnessy 1999). Recoveries of tagged juvenile seals (n = 88) indicated that 66% of deaths resulted from drowning in nets and traps or from gunshot wounds, although the full extent of this mortality in the overall population is not known (Warneke 1975). It is reported that in August 2006, about 40 fur seals were shot by two fishermen on Kanowna Island in Wilsons Promontory National Park at the southernmost point of Victoria (Russell 2006).
There is a relatively high incidence of entanglement in fishing equipment for the Australian Fur-seal. At haul-out sites in southern Tasmania, the incidence of entanglement was 1.9%, and at Tenth Island in the Bass Strait, it was a minimum of 0.6% (Pemberton et al. 1992). At Seal Rocks, Victoria, a high incidence of entanglement (up to 1.2%) was also observed (Prendergast & Johnson 1996).
Oil spills pose a threat to all seal populations, especially at breeding colonies near major shipping lanes. Australian Fur-seals are likely to be more affected by oil spills than are sea lions or phocids (true seals), because they rely on clean fur for insulation, and this is likely to become fouled by oil (Shaughnessy 1999).
Although resolving bycatch issues in gillnet and trap fisheries is an ongoing challenge, significant work has been conducted with the aim of monitoring and improving the effectiveness of seal excluder devices (SEDs) in mid-water trawl fisheries (Lyle & Willcox 2008).
Previous incidences of seal bycatch have been responded to with improved SED design, codes of conduct for trawl operations and increased marine mammal observer coverage. A comprehensive study of the effectiveness of these measures was carried out in 2006—2007 study by Lyle and Willcox (2008). The study utilised underwater video equipment to monitor the sucess of bycatch mitigation strategies employed on a vessel in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery, located in waters off the coast of Tasmania. A number of recommendations were made in order to improve the effectiveness of the SED, including using a rigid grid and angling the grid closer to 45° so that seals are directed out of the top escape opening (Lyle & Willcox 2008). Ongoing analysis and improvement of mitigation methods will continue to reduce the risk of mortality to seals and other non-target species in fisheries.
Protection nets (also referred to as predator-proof fences) have been installed on many fish farms to exclude Australian Fur-seals. These are nets of braided polypropylene twine hung at least 1.5 m from the outside of individual pens and heavily weighted to keep them apart from the pen. Alternatives include steel mesh exclusion nets around and under pens, and nylon and/or polypropylene nets around the perimetre of the lease enclosing all the pens (Pemberton & Shaughnessy 1993).
Management documents relevant to the Australian Fur-seal are at the start of the profile. Other relevant documents include:
- A Seal/Fishery Interaction Management Strategy (Marine and Marine Industries Council 2002)
- The Action Plan for Australian Seals (Shaughnessy 1999)
- Dolphin and seal interactions with mid-water trawling in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery, including an assessment of bycatch mitigation strategies (Lyle & Willcox 2008).
No threats data available.
Arnould, J.P.Y., & R. Kirkwood (2008). Habitat selection by female Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 17:S53-S67.
Arnould, J.P.Y., C.L. Littnan & G.M. Lento (2000). First contemporary record of New Zealand fur seals Arctocephalus forsteri breeding in Bass Strait. Australian Mammalogy. 22:57-61.
Australian Museum (2003). Australian Fur Seal. [Online]. Available from: http://www.amonline.net.au/factsheets/fur_seal.htm. [Accessed: 29-Jun-2007].
Brothers, N. & D. Pemberton (1990). Status of Australian and New Zealand fur seals at Maatsuyker Island, southwestern Tasmania. Australian Wildlife Research. 17:563-569.
Brunner, S. (1998). Cranial morphometrics of the southern fur seals Arctocephalus forsteri and A. pusillus (Carnivora: Otariidae). Australian Journal of Zoology. 46:67-108.
Brunner, S. (2000). Cranial morphometrics of fur seals and sea lions (Family: Otariidae) - systematics, geographic variation and growth. Ph.D. Thesis. Sydney: University of Sydney.
Gales, R. & D. Pemberton (1994). Diet of the Australian fur seal in Tasmania. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 45:653-664.
Gales, R., D. Pemberton, C.C. Lu & M.R. Clarke (1993). Cephalopod diet of the Australian fur seal: variation due to location, season and sample type. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 44:657-671.
Goldsworthy, S., N. Calvert & R. Kirkwood (2002). The biology of seal bycatch in the blue grenadier fishery off western Tasmania.
Goldsworthy, S.D. & B. Page (2007). A risk-assessment approach to evaluating the significance of seal bycatch in two Australian fisheries. Biological Conservation. 139:269-285.
Irvine, A., M.M. Bryden, P.J. Corkeron & R.M. Warneke (1997). A census of fur seals on Montague Island, New South Wales. In: Marine mammal research in the Southern Hemisphere. Page(s) 56-62. Chipping Norton, Sydney, Surrey Beatty & Sons.
Kirkwood, R., D. Pemberton, R. Gales, A.J. Hoskins, T. Mitchell, P.D. Shaughnessy & J.P.Y Arnould (2010). Continued population recovery by Australian fur seals. Marine and Freshwater Research. 61:695-701.
Lento, G.M., M. Haddon, G.K. Chambers & C.S. Baker (1997). Genetic variation of Southern Hemisphere fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.): investigation of population structure and species identity. Journal of Heredity. 202-208.
Lento, G.M., R.H. Mattlin, G.K. Chambers & C.S. Baker (1994). Geographic distribution of mitochondrial cytochrome b DNA haplotypes in New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri). Canadian Journal of Zoology. 72:293-299.
Littnan, C.L. & J.P.Y. Arnould (2002). At-sea movements of female Australian fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus. Australian Mammalogy. 24:65-72.
Littnan, C.L., J.P.Y. Arnould & R.G. Harcourt (2007). Effect of proximity to the shelf edge on the diet of Female Australian fur seals. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 338:257-627.
Lyle, J.M. & S.T. Willcox (2008). Dolphin and seal interactions with mid-water trawling in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery, including an assessment of bycatch mitigation strategies - R05/0996. Australian Fisheries Management Authority.
Marine and Marine Industries Council (2002). A Seal/Fishery Interaction Management Strategy. [Online]. Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment, Tasmania. Available from: http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/Publications/LBUN-5ER2YX?open. [Accessed: 29-Jun-2007].
Pemberton D., R, Gales (2004). Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) breeding in Tasmania: population size and status. Wildlife Research. 31(3):301-309.
Pemberton, D. & P.D. Shaughnessy (1993). Interaction between seals and marine fish-farms in Tasmania, and management of the problem. Aquatic Conservation. 3:149-158.
Pemberton, D. & R.J. Kirkwood (1994). Pup production and distribution of the Australian fur seal, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, in Tasmania. Wildlife Research. 21:341-352.
Pemberton, D., N.P. Brothers,& R. Kirkwood (1992). Entanglement of Australian fur seals in man-made debris in Tasmanian waters. Wildlife Research. 19:151-159.
Prendergast, R. & S. Johnson (1996). Plastic pollution and the Australian fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus): research and public education. In: Read, E., ed. In Proceedings of the ARAZPA/ASZK conference, Perth, Western Australia, April 1995. Page(s) 148-155. Perth Zoo, Perth.
Repenning, C.A., R.S. Peterson & C.L. Hubbs (1971). Contributions to the systematics of the southern fur seals, with particular reference to the Juan Fernández and Guadalupe species. In: Burt, W.H., ed. Antarctic pinnipedia. Page(s) 1-34. American Geophysical Union, Washington DC.
Russell, M. (2006). Fishermen face charges over seal slaughter - 3 September 2006. The Age. [Online]. Available from: http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/fishermen-face-charges-over-seal-slaughter/2006/09/02/1156817151227.html.
Shaughnessy, P. (2000). Seal research in South Australia, 1999/2000: abundance of New Zealand fur seal pups on Kangaroo Island and the Neptune Islands. Page(s) 39. SA NPWS.
Shaughnessy, P., S. Briggs & R. Constable (2001). Observations on seals at Montague Island, New South Wales. Australian Mammalogy. 23:1-7.
Shaughnessy, P.D. (1999). The Action Plan for Australian Seals. [Online]. Canberra: Environment Australia. Available from: http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/publications/seals-action-plan.html.
Shaughnessy, P.D., J.W. Testa & R.M. Warneke (1995b). Abundance of Australian fur seal pups, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, at Seal Rocks, Victoria, 1991-92 from Petersen and Bayesian estimators. Wildlife Research. 22:625-632.
Shaughnessy, P.D., R.J. Kirkwood & R.M. Warneke (2002). Australian fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus; pup numbers at Lady Julia Percy Island, Victoria, and a synthesis of the species population status. Wildlife Research. 29 (2):185-192.
Shaughnessy, P.D., S.K. Troy, R. Kirkwood & A.O. Nicholls (2000). Australian fur seals at Seal Rocks, Victoria: pup abundance by mark-recapture estimation shows continued increase. Wildlife Research. 27:629-633.
Stirling, I. & R.M. Warneke (1971). Implications of a comparison of the airborne vocalizations and some aspects of the behaviour of the two Australian fur seals, Arctocephalus spp., on the evolution and present taxonomy of the genus. Australian Journal of Zoology. 19:227-241.
Tasmania Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (Tas. DPIWE) (2005). Australian Fur Seal. [Online]. Available from: http://www.dpiwe.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/BHAN-53K77E?open.
Warneke, R.M. (1975). Dispersal and mortality of juvenile fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus in Bass Strait, southeastern Australia. Rapports et Procès-Verbaux des Réunions Conseil International pour l'Exploration de la Mer. 169:296-302.
Warneke, R.M. (1982). The distribution and abundance of seals in the Australasian region, with summaries of biology and current research. In: Mammals in the seas, FAO Fisheries Series, No. 5, Vol. 4. Page(s) 431-475. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization.
Warneke, R.M. (1988). Report on an aerial survey of Australian fur seal sites in Victoria and Tasmania during the 1986 breeding season. Page(s) 34 pp. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. Canberra.
Warneke, R.M. (1995a). Australian fur-seal Arctocephalus pusillus (Schreber, 1775). In: Strahan, R., ed. The Mammals of Australia. Page(s) 680-682. Chatswood: Reed Books.
Warneke, R.M. (1995b). Family Otariidae. In: Mammals of Victoria; distribution, ecology and conservation. Page(s) 251-256.
Warneke, R.M. & P.D. Shaughnessy (1985). Arctocephalus pusillus, the South African and Australian fur seal: taxonomy, evolution, biogeography and life history. In: J.K. Ling & M.M. Bryden, eds. Studies of Sea Mammals in South Latitudes. Page(s) 53-77. Adelaide, South Australian Museum.
Wynen, L. P., S.D. Goldsworthy, C. Guinet, M.N. Bester, I.L. Boyd, I. Gjertz, G.J.G. Hofmeyr, R.G. White & R. Slade (2000). Postsealing genetic variation and population structure of two species of fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella and A. tropicalis). Molecular Ecology. 9:299-314.
This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.
Citation: Department of the Environment (2013). Arctocephalus pusillus in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Fri, 13 Dec 2013 04:08:13 +1100.