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South Georgia Fur Seals






Antarctic fur seals are a member of the family Otariidae, or eared
seals. Early explorers in the 18th century noted the abundance of fur
seals on the coast of South Georgia and this soon lead to a lucrative
and highly destructive industry. Sealing parties were primarily
interested in the thick fur pelts and hunted seals to the brink of
extinction. By the early 20th century, fur seals would have been a rare
sight on South Georgia. Fur seals are now highly protected by domestic
legislation, which makes it illegal to harm or disturb fur seals.
International treaties, such as Convention on the International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITIES), offers further protection by regulating
trade of material between countries. Thankfully, populations have
recovered and it is thought that nearly five million fur seals now live
on South Georgia, which equates to 95% of the global population. In the
summer months they are a common sight on beaches along the north coast
and the air is filled with the sound of their calls.






Fur seals are easily recognised by their short snout, dark brown or grey
colour and dense coats with up to 60,000 hairs per square cm, which
keeps the animals warm. Around 1 in 1,000 fur seals are an unusual
‘blond’ variant, which certainly makes them stand out from the crowd.
Males in prime breeding condition can reach 2 m in length and weigh more
than 200 kg. In contrast, females are much smaller and are typically
less than 1 m in length weighing in at less than 50 kg.






Generally, fur seals are anti-social and adults are wary of both other
seals and humans, becoming hostile if they feel threatened. Although
most at home in the water, fur seals can move surprisingly quickly on
land and visitors are advised to exercise caution especially during the
breeding season. Signs that seals are becoming distressed include
changes in posture from lying to sitting, snorting or whimpering noises
and aggressive displays such as charging. In contrast to adults, pups
appear to relish company of other seals and when their mothers are away
at sea they often form gangs that play on beaches and in sheltered
pools. For many, observing the antics of fur seals going about their
daily lives is a highlight of a trip to South Georgia. To make the most
of a visit to a fur seal beach it is best to keep on the landward side
of seals to avoid blocking their escape to the sea, move slowly and
carefully and not to make loud noises, which may cause alarm.






The fur seal breeding season begins towards the end of October when
males that have been away feeding at sea over winter return to the
beaches to wait for the females who come ashore around a month later.
Soon after arrival, the females give birth to a single pup that they
have been carrying for nearly a year. Just 7 to 10 days later they are
ready to mate again. Males hold a harem that can be in excess 20
females, and are highly territorial during this period. If another male
strays onto a rival’s territory fierce battles, which can result in
serious injury or even death, can ensue. As a result of these violent
exchanges, the males usually only live for around 15 years, whereas
females can live for up to 25 years. Mothers feed their pups on a diet
of rich milk and they are weaned at around 4 months. Thereafter they
head out to sea with the juveniles returning to shore only occasionally
before being ready to breed at around two years of age.






South Georgia fur seals mainly feed on a diet of krill and typically
make short dives down to depths of around 60 m in order to find their
prey. During the winter months, fur seals can range over large distances
in search of food, but during the summer months when females are
supporting their pups, foraging trips are typically shorter and closer
to the shore. On South Georgia, this important food source is protected
in a sustainable use Marine Protected Area that covers the entire 200 nm
Maritime Zone. In this area, all fishing activity is carefully regulated
to the highest standards to ensure sustainability. To ensure that
mothers with pups have easy access to the best food sources, all fishing
activity within 12 nm of land is prohibited and during the summer months
there is a complete ban on krill fishing anywhere in the Maritime Zone.
It is hoped that through continued careful management of the environment
and protection of important food sources, this iconic and charismatic
species will continue to thrive and be enjoyed for generations to come.









Technical Details



Photography:



Blond male, Juvenile, FDC Andrew Black



Mother and pup, Female,



Juvenile diving John Dickens



Pup Kieran Love



Souvenir sheet image Jamie Watts



Layout Bee Design



Printer Lowe-Martin



Process Stochastic lithography



Perforation 13.3 per 2cms



Stamp size 32 x 40mm



Souvenir sheet size 100 x 80mm



Sheet layout 10



Release date 15 March, 2018



Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd





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