A seal swimming in a body of water

Pushed to edge of extinction: fur seals

Fur seals are an extraordinary animal that were hunted to near extinction during the 19th century.

Fur seals are extraordinary animals that were hunted to near extinction during the 19th century. On cruises in Norway, voyagers can see these animals named for their fine fur that makes them so appealing to hunters.

There are eight species of fur seals across the world, but the ones you'll see in Norway are large northern fur seals found in chilly waters. These animals are bigger and heavier than their southern relatives, which include the Guadalupe fur seal of Baja California, South American fur seal, the South African fur seal and the Australian fur seal.

Northern fur seals can weigh up to 700 pounds. Amazingly, mother seals and pups find each other using a familiar call. Studies have shown that mothers and offspring were still able to identify each others' calls even after a separation of four years. 

They have sharp eyesight and great hearing - they actually have ears, unlike hair or earless seals. 

If you're keen on seeing these fascinating creatures, you stand a good chance to spot them during their mating season in May. During this time, these social animals congregate on shore in huge numbers. Powerful males establish territories early, while females arrive around mid-June to early July. 

In the midst of breeding season, females, also known as cows, alternate between feeding at sea, where you might spot them hunting for fish and squid, and nursing on shore. Cows give birth during this breeding season and then mate again just a few days afterward. The peak of pupping typically occurs in early July, when coastlines are brimming with growling seals competing for mates. Pregnancies last one year. 

Though fur seals breathe air, they may stay at sea for weeks at a time. Populations have not made a big rebound from hunting, but voyagers on any Norway cruise line might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them.