Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Fur seals are 'eared' seals

There wasn’t enough room in At the Beach to cover all of the interesting animals that we can find around our coastline. We included the most common animals that most people would have a chance to see in their local area. Unfortunately that meant marine mammals missed out.

Marine mammals are only occasional visitors where I live, maybe once a year I see a seal that has stopped for a rest on the beach or a whale passing by. But some places really suit New Zealand Fur Seals (kekeno). I was lucky to see some seal colonies near Kaikoura and at Doubtful Sound in January and February.

I’ve always wondered why seals in kids' cartoons and storybooks looked different from our seals. And I found out why from a guide on a Real Journeys Doubtful Sound trip.

New Zealand Fur Seals are in the family of ‘eared seals’, which means that their ears have flaps which you can clearly see in this photo.

Photo copyright Sue Monk

Another feature of fur seals is that they can move their back flippers in such a way that they can stand up on all fours. Watch them on the beach and you can see them get up on all fours and lumber down to the water.

It seems that fur seals live mostly in the southern hemisphere. Seals that are seen around Europe and North America are mostly members of another family called ‘true seals’. Their ears are small holes in their head with no flaps and they can’t stand up on all fours. It is harder for them to move on land, they have to wriggle or flop along! These are the seals that seem to be most often pictured in cartoons and story books.

There is more information about fur seals in the Department of Conservation website http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/native-animals/marine-mammals/seals/.