Guadalupe Fur Seal

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Guadalupe Fur Seal

Arctocephalus townsendi

ListedDecember 16, 1985
FamilyOtariidae (Eared Seal)
DescriptionMedium-sized, dark gray seal.
HabitatCoastal waters.
FoodFish and mollusks.
ReproductionOne or two pups per season.
ThreatsCommercial sealing.


The Guadalupe fur seal, Arctocephalus townsendi, is a small to medium-sized, dark brown to almost black seal that attains a mature length of about 6 ft (1.8 m). The long guard hairs are more numerous on the male's chest and shoulders, forming a mane. The sides of the elongated to pointed snout are reddish and the whiskers are light colored.


The female typically seeks out a cave or rocky overhang to bear one or two pups in early summer. Males do not eat during periods of sexual activity and females do not eat for the first week to 10 days after giving birth. Males are territorial and establish breeding harems of two to eight females. The seal is thought to feed on small fish and mollusks along with squid and crustaceans. It hunts on alternate days with days of resting on shore in between.


The Guadalupe fur seal ranges along the central part of Guadalupe Island's east coast. It is restricted to offshore islands along the Pacific coast and requires rocky shorelines for breeding.


This species has ranged along the Pacific coast from the Channel Islands of California to Cedros Island, nearly 188 mi (300 km) southeast of Guadalupe Island. It was regularly reported on San Miguel Island southwest of Santa Barbara, California. The total population once numbered between 30,000 and 100,000 individuals.

Today the only known breeding colony of the Guadalupe fur seal is on the east coast of Guadalupe Island, more than 156 mi (250 km) west of the Baja California mainland. Bulls and non-breeding animals have been sighted along the California coast in the Farallon and Channel Islands. The current population is thought to be about 1,600.


Commercial sealing during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought the Guadalupe fur seal to near extinction by 1920. It was in fact considered extinct until 1954 when a breeding population was discovered on isolated Guadalupe Island. The island currently is uninhabited, except for a seasonal fishing camp. However, seals that inhabit the waters of southern California may be affected by offshore oil development that results in small oil spills that damage the insulating properties of their fur. The seals may also be affected by the sonic booms over the northern Channel Islands caused by the Space Shuttle Program.

Commercial fisherman consider the seal a nuisance because the seals eat some of the harvestable fish, and ruin fishing nets when they become entangled in them.

Conservation and Recovery

Because the population appears to be expanding naturally at a slow rate, the present recovery strategy is to continue protecting seals from hunting and habitat disturbance.

Recovery activities include protecting the seal from illegal takes by hunters and commercial fisherman, protecting Guadalupe Island and other suitable habitats, and reducing the impacts of oil exploration, tourism, and space program activities.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
Eastside Federal Complex
911 N.E. 11th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232-4181
(503) 231-6121

Office of Public Affairs
National Marine Fisheries Service
Department of Commerce
Washington, D.C. 20235


Fleischer, L. 1977. "Guadalupe Fur Seal." In Marine Mammals in Eastern North Pacific and Arctic. Pacific Search Books, Seattle.

Maxwell, G. 1967. Seals of the World. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Peterson, R. S., et al. 1968. "The Guadalupe Fur Seal: Habitat, Behavior, Population Size, and Field Identification." Journal of Mammalogy 49:665-675.

Thornback, J., and M. Jenkins. 1982. IUCN Mammal Red Data Book, Pt. 1. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Gland, Switzerland.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1986. "Endangered Species Technical Bulletin" 11(1): 4.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1985. "Endangered Species Technical Bulletin." 10(2):4-5. National Marine Fisheries Service proposes additional protection for two species of seals.