Cape Town Fur Seals

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The Cape Fur Seal referred to as the ‘dogs of the ocean’, belongs to the eared seal family (Otariidae) and are a subspecies of the Afro-Australian Fur seal. They are the largest of all the fur seal varieties and the only seal species that breed in South Africa.

These seals were first sighted off the coast of South Africa in 1884 and in 1922 the South West Africa government introduced legislation to control the utilisation of these seals which became a major contributory factor in their survival and increase in population.

Cape fur seal distribution extends from Algoa Bay in the east to northern Namibia on the west coast, with colonies occurring all along the coastlines of South Africa. There are roughly 2 million Cape fur seals and about 40 breeding colonies throughout this distributional range. Their colonies can range in numbers from a few dozens to several thousand seals. They also generally live in secluded locations which offer protection from human interference, habitat destruction, and land-based predators.

Where to Find Cape Fur Seals in Cape Town

Cape Fur Seals in Cape Town are often seen at the V&A Waterfront, Hout Bay, and Kalk Bay, resting and lazily enjoying the day by the harbour. There are also a number of boat trips and cruises offered to visitors by Cape Town operators in Gansbaai and Plettenberg Bay, and along the Cape West Coast to see these beautiful and social creatures. These seals are known for approaching the boats for close human interaction. Some of them even swim with humans. Click here for more information.

Physical Characteristics

The Cape Fur Seals got their name because of their two layers of thick fur. Their fur are much thicker than those of other seal species and consists of a soft inner layer and a more bristly outer layer. A layer of blubber and these two layers of coarse hair help  keep them warm in the water.

The Cape Fur Seals have a wide head with small, external ear flaps and a pointed snout. Males have a darker mane and quite light belly while the females do not have a mane and are, generally, lighter in colour. The seals’ rear flippers are rather short and have fleshy tips, while the fore flippers are longer with a little hair on them.

Cape Town Fur Seals

Adult males are normally larger than females. They measure an average of 2.3 meters in length weighing up to 350kg. While the females measure an average of around 1.8 m long and weigh in at around 80 to 150 kg. The Cape Fur Seals have an average life expectancy of 20 years.

Other Characteristics

These curious animals have two sleeping patterns, one in the water and one on land. In the ocean, they rest different parts of their brain at different times and stay afloat by paddling with one fore flipper. On land, they sleep more like land mammals. When sleeping, they occasionally open one eye to watch for predators. They are very active and social in the water and territorial on land. These seals can also dive to depths of over 200m and can hold their breath for up to 7.5 minutes.


The male Cape Fur Seals sexually matures at 4 to 5 years of age but normally don’t start breeding until 8 to 13 years of age. The females, on the other hand, mature sexually at around 3 to 4 years old.

During the breeding season, males establish their territories within a colony by means of sparring, displays and even sometimes violent confrontations. The males will gather a harem of females in their territory which may consist of more than 50 females at a time. The females will fight among themselves over land-based territory in which they can give birth.

The Cape fur seal gestation period is 8 months, but because of the process called ‘delayed implantation’, females only give birth after 12 months. Delayed implantation is where the already fertilized egg only begins to generate after a period of 4 months.

The female Cape Fur Seals give birth to pups at the beginning of summer, which is around late November or early December. After birth, they spend most of their time on land, caring for their pups. They take trips into the ocean to get food which can last about four days during summer and about a week during winter. Upon return, the mother will call her pups with her unique voice and manner.


When the pups are born, they are highly dependent on their mothers for nutrition and protection as they are unable to swim. It usually takes about three months for seal pups to make their way into the water and swim confidently on their own. Pups are born with black to olive-grey fur and are very easy to spot as they are significantly smaller than the rest of the colony.

Cape Town Fur Seals

Many years ago, Cape Fur Seal pups were hunted for their fur to be utilized in the fashion industry. Fortunately, the fur fashion became a taboo and legislative measures were created to protect the species. They have been protected in South Africa since 1893.

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The Cape Fur Seals are carnivores and are traditionally most fond of pilchards and anchovies. About three-quarters of their diet is fish. About 20% is squid and the rest are crabs and other crustaceans. They generally hunt alone but can form hunting parties of up to 15 individuals.


The main predator of the Cape Fur Seals is the mighty Great White Shark. Orcas also hunt these seals. Hyenas and jackals are their known predators when on land. In Namibia, however, the major threat to these seals are humans who still hunt them for their beautiful fur.

Despite the number of threats to their survival, these Cape Fur Seals have continued to thrive. There are roughly 2 million of them in and around South Africa. Never miss the chance to interact with this curious and playful mammals when visiting Cape Town!