Galápagos fur seal are on the verge of extinction

The government of Ecuador declared the Galápagos a national park and there have been no more poaching incidents since

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Galápagos fur seal are on the verge of extinction

The Galápagos fur seals are endemic to the Galápagos Islands where they prefer the rocky cliffs they leave alone to feed, but there is a colony in Peru too. These seals feed mainly on fish and cephalopods. They feed relatively close to the shore, but have been observed at depths of 170 m.

They often feed at night because their prey is easier to catch. Adult sea lions feed earlier than young and in the years when El Niño is particularly hard a large number of juveniles will die. Galápagos fur seals have practically no predators.

Sharks and killer whales have occasionally been observed feeding on them, but very rarely. Sharks and killer whales are the main predators of most other pinnipeds, but their migration corridors do not normally include the Galápagos.

The Galápagos fur seal population has been in decline since the 19th century. Poachers killed thousands of these sea lions in the 19th century. Since 1959, Ecuador has put in place very strict laws to protect these animals.

The government of Ecuador declared the Galápagos a national park and there have been no more poaching incidents since. Despite the laws, another tragic population decline occurred during 1982-83 on the occasion of El Niño almost all the cubs of this seal died along with 30% of the adults.

Since 1983, no calamities have been recorded that have caused a major population decline. Given that the pups of this seal are dependent on their mother's milk for the first 18 months and weaning can be delayed for two or three years if conditions are unfavorable, the result is that every year about 23% of pups are born while the young are still.

feeding on breast milk. In years when food is abundant, the mortality rate of the second litter is limited to 5%, which is equivalent to the death rate of newborns without other puppies. In years when food is scarce, 80% of babies die within a month if the previous litter is still breastfeeding.

The younger litter then serves as insurance in cases where the first litter dies and also provides additional reproductive power in case conditions turn out to be better than expected. This betting strategy is particularly useful in the Galápagos since a large investment is required from the mother to raise a little one to independence in an environment that has many food fluctuations.

The high degree of uncertainty of available resources, late weaning and the potential overlap of the lactation period in your spouse leads to violent rivalry between puppies and provides excellent conditions for studying conflicts between parents and puppies.

Galápagos fur seals have the lowest reproduction rate reported in pinnipeds, and it takes an unusually long time to prepare pups for independence. Females have only one pup at a time, and she stays with her newborn for a week before leaving to feed.

Females exclusively breastfeed their own offspring and often violently reject other pups who try to be nursed. Orphans usually die within a month.