Seals around Palmer Station - part III:
The Antarctic Fur Seal is a very charismatic animal. In fact its latin name is Arctocephalus gazella, implying its grace in the water. Of all the seals around Palmer Station, these are the most playful ones (and may actually follow you, either with good or bad intentions). These seals are pretty good climbers - being the only eared seal in the Antarctic (see their obvious ears in the photos below), this also means they can tuck their hind flippers under and walk on all fours.
Fur seals do not belong to the same family as the true seals, the Phocidae. Rather, the fur seal is in the family Otariidae, to which sea lions belong. So, they are not closely related but look very similar. That is because they occupy similar environments (i.e., marine) to which they have adapted and certain traits are advantageous in water. This process of developing similar traits despite not being closely related is called convergent evolution. Another example of convergent evolution: swallows and swifts look alike, but are not closely related either. They both are aerial acrobats chasing after flying insects, so they both independently evolved traits that enable them to do just that.
Hunting fur seals (and not just the Antarctic Fur Seals, but Subantarctic and New Zealand Fur Seals also) was the main goal of the sealers in the 1820s. On some islands, such as Macquarie Island, the entire population of fur seals was nearly completely eliminated (between 1810-1820 about 200,000 were killed). On the South Shetland Islands, over a two-year period (1820-1822), 320,000 fur seals were killed. Even worse, in 1825 uncontrolled hunting resulted in 1.2 million fur seals being killed for their pelts on the island of South Georgia alone.
Hunting was nearly ceased by 1907 on South Georgia (as the population of fur seals were assumed to be near-extinct). Since then, the population started to slowly recover and have now rebounded to the original size. On other islands, the populations of fur seals continue to recover. This seal has thus shown to be quite resilient despite the massive human destruction. An impressive feat!