Guadalupe Fur Seals Lose Their Safety Net – Effects Of Climate Change Reach Remote Islands

Source: Hakai Magazine/Larry Pynn

Photo: Alec Weir/Unsplash

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In the azure waters far off Mexico’s Pacific coast lies a volcanic island that is the world’s last stronghold of the Guadalupe fur seal.

Guadalupe Island’s remote location about 250 kilometers west of the Baja California peninsula is what once saved the species—the rarest of the four fur seal species—from extinction by overzealous hunters. Today, geography offers no protection against anthropogenic climate change.

Slaughtered commercially for its pelt, the Guadalupe fur seal was believed to be extinct by the end of the 1800s—when, in fact, a small population survived on Guadalupe Island. After the remnant colony surfaced a few decades later, the Mexican government protected it, and the population slowly rebounded.

In the mid-1950s, fewer than 20 individuals inhabited Guadalupe Island. As the population expanded, scientists confirmed Guadalupe fur seals had reached the San Benito Islands, more than 270 kilometers southeast of Guadalupe Island, in the late 1990s. Researchers have also documented sightings over the past 30 years on Southern California islands, especially San Miguel Island, where they’re the most common pinnipeds in archaeological deposits.

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Photo: Alec Weir/Unsplash

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