The Alaska species of fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) is a kind of “seal bear,” as its Latin name suggests. The bulls grow up to 7 feet long and can weigh 400 pounds. Tens of thousands of these caterwauling creatures return to the Pribilof Islands yearly to breed. The dominant bulls arrive after eight months at sea in early June, and the noisy fight for the prime beach real estate often results in bloody bulls.
The cows show up a couple of weeks later—small (80 pounds), submissive, and steeling themselves for a bloody bounce on the beach. A big stud bull might accumulate 60–70 cows in his harem, and it’s exactly as debilitatingly profligate a scene as it sounds. The bulls don’t eat, living only off their own fat all summer, and look like skid row derelicts by mid-August when they take off to the North Pacific to eat, sleep, and regain their strength.
The gestation period is one year, and the cows return to the same rookery to give birth. The pups swim away in late October and return after a couple of years as “bachelors.” Between 2 and 7 years old, they play in the sand and surf until the young males have grown big and bad enough to have their way with the cows.
For more information on fur seals, visit the National Marine Fisheries Service’s website (www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedresources).
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition