Scientific Name: Callorhinus ursinus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: British Columbia, Pacific Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2010
Last COSEWIC Designation: Threatened
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
The northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus, Linnaeus 1758) is a sexually dimorphic species. Mature males exceed the size of females by an average factor of 3.4-5.4, and are black to reddish brown in colour. Females are gray-brown along their dorsal surface, and lighter along their ventral surface.
Most of the animals that winter in Canadian waters breed at four islands, of which three are in Alaska (two in the Pribilof Islands – St Paul, St George - plus Bogoslof) and one in California (San Miguel). Pup production is used as an index of population size. Pup production at the two largest breeding colonies, both in the Pribilof Islands, which presently account for 90% of all fur seals in the eastern Pacific, has been declining for the last 45 years and pup numbers at these colonies have declined by 38% over the last 30 years (3 generations). Numbers of pups have been increasing in the much smaller colony at Bogoslof Island. Taken together, these trends in pup production mean it is likely that numbers of mature individuals will continue to decline. In 2008 there were approximately 650,000 fur seals in the eastern Pacific compared with more than 2 million in the 1950s. There is potential for rescue from Asian colonies in the western Pacific, although little is known about dispersal in mature females. The causes of the declines are unknown, but continuing and potential threats include entanglement, prey limitation, oil spills and the effects of contaminants.
The population that breeds on the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea feeds in, and migrates through, British Columbia waters. This population numbered about 629,000 animals in 2004. Although still relatively large, the population, as inferred from pup counts, has declined by 50-60% over three generations (1974-2004). The rate of decline has been particularly rapid since 1998. Trends in counts of adult males from 1974-2004 are confounded by response to the cessation, in 1984, of the selective commercial harvesting of sub-adult males in 1984. These counts have declined rapidly and inexplicably since 1992. The reasons for the population decline are unknown. Entanglement in marine debris, disturbance, pollution, and environmental changes, possibly including a regime shift in the Bering Sea and North Pacific ecosystems, are thought to be contributing factors. Little is known about possible limiting factors in British Columbia and other regions where fur seals forage during their annual migration.
This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of 30 species made pursuant to paragraph 15(1)(a) and in accordance with subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.
Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”.
COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.
Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the Speckled Dace, Chinook Salmon (Okanagan population) and Northern Fur Seal to the Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Your input on the impacts of adding these species to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding these species to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).