Tasmanian-born fur seal exceeds expected life span for the species

​A long-nosed fur seal born on Maatsuyker Island off Tasmania’s southwest coast in 1996 has been resighted 25 years later at Lakes Entrance in southeast Victoria.

Marked long-nosed fur seal. Picture courtesy DELWP

Marked long-nosed fur seal. Picture courtesy of DELWP

​The male long-nosed fur seal was seen hauled out and resting in August this year along the Gippsland Coast. Fur seals often haul out during the day when foraging in nearby coastal waters.

The seal has a distinctive numerical marking of 830 on its right-hand side rump and had wildlife officers within Victoria asking their counterparts across Australia where the seal may have originated from. 

Marked 830 on long-nosed fur seal

Marked 830 on long-nosed fur seal

DPIPWE Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Sam Thalmann said the team was excited to respond to this call and to gain important updated information from research activities conducted more than 20 years ago. 

“It was previously thought that the species reached a maximum age of 19, however this sighting of the fur seal was 25 years after it was marked as a pup,” Mr Thalmann said. 

“This provides exciting new knowledge into the maximum life span for wild fur seals in Australia.”

Marked long-nosed fur seal in Victoria. Picture courtesy DELWP

Marked long-nosed fur seal in Victoria. Picture courtesy DELWP

​Understanding the life history dynamics such as age structure, survival, longevity and dispersal of wild, far-ranging marine species such as fur seals is difficult to establish, but it is fundamental in conservation management and planning.

“We see a lot of older male fur seals that are past their prime and haul out along the Tasmanian coast as they reach their end of life, but this seal does not fit in this category,” Mr Thalmann said.

“This seal appears to be in good physical condition and may continue to prosper for years to come.”

Hunted to near extinction in the 1800s, long-nosed fur seals were discovered on Maatsuyker Island in 1987. 

DPIPWE staff David (Doozie) Pemberton and Rosemary Gales were involved in the initial research activities which discovered long-nosed fur seals on Maatsuyker Island over 20 years ago. 

“We were surveying the island searching for soft plumaged and great-winged petrels from a yacht when we noticed the fur seals in the rugged rock pools along the coast,” Doozie said.

“Rosemary, who had just arrived from working on Stewart Island in New Zealand, had no doubts that they were indeed long-nosed fur seals.

“When this particular seal resighted in Victoria was marked in 1996, less than 100 pups were born annually and breeding was restricted to Maatsuyker Island only.”

Today, the long-nosed fur seal is a protected species and listed as Rare under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act. 

“Bass Strait had thriving populations of elephant seals, Australian sea lions, long-nosed fur seals and Australian fur seals when the French and British explorers arrived,” Doozie said. 

“The sealing trade soon resulted in the extinction of the elephant seals, sea lions and long-nosed fur seals from Bass Strait.

“The discovery at Maatsuyker Island, along with sightings of elephant seals, gave us hope for recovery of the seal diversity in our pristine waters and it was an exciting time to be immersed in marine surveys.”