Kekeno, Antipodean fur seal, Australasian fur seal, Black fur seal, South Australian fur seal, Southern fur seal, Long-nosed fur seal
The Māori name for the fur seal is “kekeno”, which means “look-arounds”. This behavior is easily recognized from observing a seal colony. Kekeno had very good reason to look around, as by the close of the 19th-century hunters and sealers had almost driven them to extinction. These seals are the commonest seals in New Zealand and their numbers are growing. They are excellent swimmers, and pups, once weaned, will sometimes cover great distances. A pup tagged on the west coast of the South Island was recorded in Australia. When on land they will sometimes become disoriented, being found in unusual locations such as streets, back yards, and drains.
The New Zealand fur seal has two geographically isolated populations: the first around New Zealand and the second along Australia’s south coast. In New Zealand, they are concentrated in the area of the South Island, where large breeding colonies are on the southern and western coasts and this country’s sub-Antarctic islands. There are no breeding colonies in the North Island, but these seals do occur on the Three Kings Islands in the north, off the northernmost tip of New Zealand. In Australia, they are found in coastal waters and the offshore islands of South and Western Australia. This species tends to stay near to land and is generally found on rocky shores, and readily goes into areas of coastal vegetation which are behind the shoreline. It seems to prefer the continental shelf and slope when at sea.
New Zealand fur seals spend much time on rocky shores, at haul-out sites. Every year these sociable creatures return to the same place during the breeding season. These sites can get noisy. Individuals make calls for a range of reasons. Males use vocalizations during their threat displays, and pups and females often vocalize when seeking each other after the mother has been on a foraging trip. Apart from the breeding season, males will practice comfort behaviors like grooming, scratching, and rubbing for a long period of time. During cold days, fur seals sleep on land, tucking their flippers under them and slightly curling up their bodies to retain heat. When it is warmer they will lie with their bodies and fins extended for the purpose of maximum heat loss. Their frequency of movement during the mid-summer slows down when they seek out shade and pools of water, or they take dips in the sea.
New Zealand fur seals exhibit a polygynous system, where males defend their territory with a harem between 5 and 8 females. Being island-hoppers, male fur seals choose an island as their breeding site. On arrival at an island, males compete with one another to establish a territory two weeks before the pregnant females come ashore. Late October is the start of the breeding season, and it runs until early February. Cows generally mate once each year and bear a single pup, following a gestation of nine months. Delayed implantation occurs for 2 to 4 months after fertilization. This allows a female to give birth and mate during the same breeding season. The newborn pups are precocial, able to start suckling within an hour. They are weaned when 9 to 10 months old. They reach maturity at about 4 to 5 years old, but males do not become territorial until the age of 8 to 10 years when their body size is the same as other males.
Today most of the threats to New Zealand fur seals are due to human activities. They drown as by-catch during long-line and trawling fishing operations within New Zealand. Further threats include entanglement in marine debris and being harassed by people.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total New Zealand fur seal population size across New Zealand and Australia is about 200,000 individuals, including 100,000 reproductively mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers are increasing.
New Zealand fur seals may have an influence on the fish population due to their diet. They are also important as prey for their natural predators (sharks, orcas, leopard seals).