The Guadalupe fur seals journey back from the dead

inu-guadalupe-fur-seal

Twice thought to be extinct in the last century, the Guadalupe fur seal, Arctocephalus townsendi, now has cause for celebration as its conservation status has been raised to least concern in the latest IUCN red list report.

Being more alike to a sea lion than a seal due to their external earflaps and long flippers, the Guadalupe fur seal is member of the otariidae family and is the only species of Arctocephalus found north of the equator. Not much is known about their behaviour as they spend most of their time in the open ocean.

Although once considered the most abundant seal species around Southern California with around 200,000 individuals living on the various islands, the Guadalupe fur seal was severely persecuted by commercial sealers for its luxurious underfur. From the late 1700s to 1848 alone at least 52,000 individuals were killed. By the late 1800s it seemed like the end for the seal and it was presumed to be extinct.

Map showing the islands where the Guadalupe fur seal is now found

Map showing the islands where the Guadalupe fur seal is now found

In 1928 in a shocking discovery a small breeding group was found living on the Isla de Guadalupe. However this return was to be short-lived and through poaching andcollecting for zoos and museums this group was also wiped out. For over a decade there were no more sightings and the Guadalupe fur seal was once again considered extinct.

In 1949 a lone male was spotted at San Nicholas Island and five years later a breeding group of 14 individuals was found at Isla de Guadalupe, by the late 1990s this group had grown to several thousand individuals and in 1997 another colony was established at Isla Benito del Este.

The population is now thriving with 20000 individuals reported in 2010. Isla de Guadalupe has been designated as a pinniped sanctuary and visits to the island are regulated and kept to a minimum. Enforcement of the USA marine mammal protection act played a big part in the fur seals recovery however there have been few proactive conservation efforts. Once the fur seals habitat was protected they largely recovered by themselves with minimal human interference.

Although leaving a severely vulnerable species alone to recover by itself is often not going to be the best course of action it does go to show the importance of protecting essential habitats and that even in the most hopeless cases species can show resilience and come back from the brink.

 

ngm-nationalgeographic

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Madeleine Berry

Wildlife enthusiast and recent Biology graduate of Queen Mary, University of London.

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