Montague Island Fur Seals
Montague Island provides a home for over 1000 fur seals, playful puppies of the ocean.
Australian & New Zealand Fur Seals are at home on Montague Island. After being hunted for their furs during the 18th and 19th centuries, thankfully these charismatic and lovely sea mammals are now protected in Australia and their numbers increasing.
The majority of seals on Montague Island are Australian fur seals, which are the largest of the fur seals. Fur Seals belong to the same family as sea lions - Otariidae and differ from seals in the family Phocidae, which contains species such as the leopard seal and the southern elephant seal. Fur seals have external ears and can raise their bodies on to their front flippers to move around on land whereas Phocidae move in a lunging caterpillar-like motion.
Fur seals have large eyes, a pointed face with whiskers and sharp teeth. Both Australian and New Zealand fur seals have two layers of fur. The New Zealand fur seal is generally a bit smaller and darker in colour with dark brown fur on its back, while the Australian fur seal is brown grey.
Out of the two species the Australian fur seal is the most sociable - often seen sitting in tightly packed groups on rocks partly piled on top of each other, they are curious about humans and have a huge sense of fun and play. Their New Zealand cousins also mingle with the crowd but like their personal space a little more.
Observing fur seals
Seals are on the island all year round, so you will be guaranteed of seeing them. If you book your visit for late winter or spring you'll be amidst peak seal time with over 1000 animals on the island. After December numbers do drop off, but there are still a couple of hundred seals in residence. As your boat approaches the island, look out for the seals at the northern end of the island as they haul out and cool down in the water and frolic and fish. It may look as if they are waving a friendly flipper in the air as they cool down by rolling on their side on the surface of the water. You may also see a small group of New Zealand fur seals who are based on the southern end of the island.
You have a number of options regarding travel to the island and how to structure your visit. Charter boats go out to Montague Island on a regular basis and tours can be booked for combined snorkelling and island visits, or just snorkelling. Dive charters are also available. The Narooma & Batemans Bay Visitor Centres have details of tours and can help you plan your trip. Phone 1800 802 528 or visit our Montague Island page for more information.
The Australian fur seals at Montague Island come from at least several of the breeding colonies in Bass Strait, while the New Zealand fur seals may come from populations in South Australia, 1400 km away, or from the south island of New Zealand. Montague Island was thought to be a predominantly male colony for a long time. In recent years a dozen seal pups have been seen on the island suggesting Montague may become a successful breeding colony and that recovery of seal numbers is continuing. Breeding season is between October and December.
Below: Snorkelling with fur seals at Montague Island is a unique wildlife encounter