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Arctocephalus philippi (Arctocephalus townsendi)
Guadalupe Fur Seal

OTARIIDAE (Eared Seals and Seal Lions)

Elephant seal, photo by Jon Rebman Photo of Guadalupe fur seal adult,  Brad Hollingsworth Photo of Guadalupe fur seal pup,  Brad Hollingsworth, SDNHM


The Guadalupe fur seal is a rarely-seen member of the Otariidae family. It has a long pointed muzzle and low sloping forehead. Like other otariids, Guadalupe fur seals can rotate their hind flippers under the body for terrestrial walking. In the water they swim with their elongated front flippers. They are dusky black in color, with coarser hairs along the upper back that are tipped with white, giving a grayish or grizzled effect.

Size:The male can reach 1.8 meters (6 feet) and 160 kg (350 pounds); females are smaller at about 1.4 meters (4-1/2 feet) and 45 kg (100 pounds).

Similar species: California sea lion—larger and has a higher forehead. Elephant seal—much larger; the male has a long snout. Harbor seal—has spots.

Range and Habitat

The Guadalupe fur seal has a limited range along the Pacific Coast, extending from San Nicolas Island off southern California to Guadalupe Island off Baja California. Its primary habitat consists of rocky areas at the base of high cliffs and in sea caves.

Natural History

Because of its near brush with extinction and its affinity for sea caves and rugged coastlines, little is known about the behavior of the Guadalupe fur seal. During the breeding season, a dominant bull will secure territories in or near sea caves, and acquire a group of about ten females. The young are born in June and July. The common call of the males is described as a bark and they may also utter a high-pitched roar when disturbed.

Conservation Status

Before the sealers of the nineteenth century nearly exterminated it, the Guadalupe fur seal was common on the Farallon Islands off the central California coast and south to the Mexican coast. The species was extirpated from California waters by 1825, with commercial sealing continuing in Mexican waters through 1894. After that, it was thought to be extinct, until a lone male was found on San Nicolas Island in the 1950s. An expedition from Scripps Institution of Oceanography discovered a small breeding colony on Guadalupe Island in 1954. Current populations are thought to number 200-500, mostly on islands off the Mexican coast. Its habit of keeping to sea caves may have saved it from extinction.

Explore More

Isla Guadalupe Expedition—Scientists from the Museum's Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias conducted a binational multidisciplinary expedition on Isla Guadalupe, off the coast of Baja California, during early June 2000.

Text by Linda West in consultation with Dr. Thomas Deméré
Top photograph of fur seal by Jon Rebman
Other photographs of fur seal adult and pup by Bradford Hollingworth

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