We have been counting fur seal pups on the beaches of North Head (the northern end of the island) to estimate how many pups are born here this year. The pups are very cute and are usually found sleeping on piles of kelp on the beaches or exploring rock pools.
Macquarie Island was discovered by sealers in July 1810 and the fur seals were quickly exterminated — within ten years an estimated 200,000 fur seals had been killed. In 1821 it was observed, ‘at one time the island abounded with seals, but now it is a very rare thing to see one; only four were killed last year’ (as recorded by J.S. Cumpston in his book 'Macquarie Island'in 1968).
Fur seals were first recorded breeding here again in 1954, over 130 years after the cessation of sealing. The population has slowly increased and now almost 300 pups are born each year on the beaches of North Head, the only place on the island where they bred until recently. During the last few years pups have also been observed at Handspike Point on the west coast and along the north-east coast. Access to the North Head beaches is restricted to protect their important breeding habitat.
Macquarie Island now has a unique fur seal population because there are three species — the endangered sub-Antarctic fur seal (A. tropicalis), the Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) and the long-nosed fur seal (A. forsteri). The breeding population mainly consists of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic fur seals, with some hybridisation.
By Andrea (Ranger-In-Charge)