Anomalous lanugo coat colourations in sub-Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) pups born on Marion Island


Anomalous pelage colourations are not uncommon amongst pinnipeds but have not been documented in sub-Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus tropicalis). Fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) have been monitored on Marion Island since 1973, and as part of the long-term monitoring programme, any atypical sightings of fur seals were recorded. Fourteen sub-Antarctic fur seal pups with anomalous lanugo coat colourations were observed on Marion Island between 2008 and 2018. Most of these pups were born to typically coloured sub-Antarctic fur seal mothers. The observed coat colourations are an anomaly of their natal (lanugo) black coats. While all pups had normal colour vibrissae and eyes, they had creamy muzzles and brown-to-blonde ventral and belly colouration. The fur on the flippers was a light tan to cream in colouration, darkening towards the border of the flipper. The dorsal side of the pups all appeared to be light grey in colour. All pups appeared to be healthy. Once moulted, these pups had normal adult pelage colourations. The frequency of occurrence of these anomalous lanugo coat colourations was low, suggesting that this is a particularly rare phenomenon. The causes for these anomalous coat colourations are unknown. These observations are the first records of sub-Antarctic fur seal pups with anomalous lanugo fur colourations from the Prince Edward Islands and represents the first of such observations in sub-Antarctic fur seals worldwide. It also represents the first report on anomalous colourations of pinnipeds that appears to exclusively influence the lanugo fur.

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The Department of Environmental Affairs provided logistic support within the South African National Antarctic Programme. The Department of Science and Technology, through the National Research Foundation (South Africa), provided financial support.

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Correspondence to Kate H. du Toit.

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We declare that there are no conflicts of interest (financial or non-financial) with regard to this research or this paper.

Ethical approval

All Marion Island Marine Mammal work has ethics clearance from the Animal Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, under AUCC 040,827-022, AUCC 040,827-023, AUCC 040,827-024 and EC030602-016, and is carried out under permit granted by the Director-General: Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa. The Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme field protocol workplan (De Bruyn et al. 2018) as approved by the Director General of the Department of Environmental Affairs and the guidelines for fieldwork with marine mammals as published by the Society for Marine Mammalogy (Gales et al. 2009) were followed.

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du Toit, K.H., Mole, M.A., Wege, M. et al. Anomalous lanugo coat colourations in sub-Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) pups born on Marion Island. Polar Biol 42, 1053–1057 (2019).

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  • Sub-Antarctic fur seal
  • Arctocephalus tropicalis
  • Marion Island
  • Anomalous coat colouration