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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The little bear with the beautiful nose

While Eric and I were doing a beach survey tonight, we looked up from searching for small invertebrates near our feet to see a mammal in the distance moving towards the surf:

For a while, it swam close to shore:

And then it re-emerged onto the beach.  [I should mention that all of these pictures are heavily cropped; we watched respectfully from a distance.]

We were both excited and worried to see a young fur seal.  Although The Marine Mammal Center has handled a record number of stranded fur seals this year, I've only seen them at sea, and Eric had never seen one before.  Fur seals are pelagic, spending most of their life offshore.  Seeing one on the beach could mean that the animal wasn't healthy (although this one appeared energetic).

This fur seal started to groom with its very long hind flippers:

The whole time we were there it groomed various parts of its body with its hind flippers it was amazing to see how flexible it was!

I don't have experience identifying Northern Fur Seals and Guadalupe Fur Seals.  I've tried reading about them, and my best guess for this individual is a Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus).

I'm basing the identification on the short snout and rounded forehead...long ears...extremely long hind flippers...and a lack of fur past the wrist on the upper side of the front flippers.  That said, if you have more experience and can help confirm or correct this identification, please let me know.

You might have noticed that this fur seal is tagged look for the orange tag on the front right flipper in the last picture.  I'm not sure if this means it was tagged at a breeding colony, or if it's a rehabilitated animal that was released.  Perhaps someone familiar with fur seal tags could provide additional information.

P.S.  Callorhinus means "beautiful nose" and ursinus means "bear-like," hence the name of this post.

ADDENDUM (30 March 2016):  A quick update:  Several people have responded that they agree with the identification as a Northern Fur Seal.

And, TMMC has some information about tagging on their websiteThey mention the sources of different tag colors:

Green -- A
ño Nuevo Island
Pink -- Farallon Islands
Red -- San Miguel Island
Orange -- rehabilitation centers

I also learned that a tag on the right flipper indicates a female (vs. on the left for a male).  So this female Northern Fur Seal was released from a rehabilitation center.  Thanks everyone for the useful information!


Alice Chan said...

Wow! This is wonderful to see!

John W. Wall said...

Maybe it's Ozzie: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/California-Sea-Lion-Ozzie-Found-in-Fremont-Front-Yard-373386701.html

John W. Wall said...

P.S. The link I posted says sea lion but that's an error that's noted in the article. Ozzie is a fur seal.

Jackie Sones said...

Thanks for the link, John -- and making sure everyone knows that the story was about a fur seal. I appreciated seeing the footage of the fur seals swimming in the tank, as we saw the same graceful "spinning" behavior when this animal was in the water.