If you volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium, chances are you have that one animal that’s your favorite. For me, it’s two: our northern fur seals, Commander and Woodstock. We’re extremely lucky to have them here at the Aquarium, as there are only 12 northern fur seals in aquariums nationwide. Commander is a 9-year-old male fur seal that we have on breeding loan from the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. Woodstock (or Woody as we like to call her) is a female who was born here at the Aquarium 23 years ago! Looking at our fur seals, it’s hard to believe that Commander is much younger than Woody. This is because fur seals have the largest sexual dimorphism of all mammals—which means that there is a huge difference in sizes between genders. Females weigh about 110 pounds. A male’s weight fluctuates seasonally and can be as low as 300 pounds in the winter and 600 pounds in summer!
Many people mistake northern fur seals for sea lions, which is very easy to do. They are in the same subgroup of pinnipeds, which includes sea lions and true seals, like our harbor seals. Fur seals and sea lions are in a separate family than the true seals, called Otariidae, which means they have external ear flaps, which true seals lack. Both fur seals and sea lions have nails on their back flippers that are used for grooming.
While both Woody and Commander are in my favorite species at the Aquarium, Commander is definitely my favorite individual animal. I love to do my volunteer shift down in the Family Activity Center where I can watch him through the large under water windows in his exhibit. He loves to swim and I enjoy watching how graceful he is. Woody is just adorable to look at; she likes to take naps on her deck when it’s nice and sunny outside.
Fur seals are also great climbers, a skill that they show off during feedings. Because they can walk on all four limbs, they are able to climb forward and backward, something true seals cannot do. Commander is an excellent climber, which he demonstrates when he climbs the rocky wall of his exhibit to look at Woody through the glass in the neighboring exhibit!
To see these majestic creatures, visit us here at the Seattle Aquarium. Who knows, maybe you’ll even see me there with my favorite animals!