Northern Fur Seals

Meet our Northern fur seals: Commander and Woodstock

Did you know there are currently just 10 Northern fur seals in zoos and aquariums in the United States – and two of them live right at the Seattle Aquarium? The duo includes Commander, an 8-year-old male and Woodstock, a 22-year-old female. Below are some fast facts on these charming, outgoing, intelligent mammals. Come say hello to them on your next visit to the Seattle Aquarium!


Where are you from, anyway?

Commander was born at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut; he came to the Seattle Aquarium as part of a breeding collaboration described below. Woodstock was born right here at the Seattle Aquarium.

Big guys, little gals:

Male Northern fur seals are up to six times larger than females – that’s called sexual dimorphism, and it’s the largest size difference of any species of marine mammal.

Woodstock: looking good.

In 2010 Woodstock, or Woody as she is affectionately known, underwent two successful cataract surgeries. As evidenced by her ability to catch a herring tossed to her from 25 feet away, her vision is now great!

Big, big, big guys.

Male Northern fur seals average between 350-600 lbs. where in comparison female Northern fur seals average 95-110 lbs. Males bulk up on food all winter long in preparation for their return to the breeding grounds, where they will spend up to four months on land competing with other males for the opportunity to breed with as many females as possible. Only 10% of males ever get a chance to breed!

“Big Al” (1992 – 2011)

Al came to the Seattle Aquarium in 1993, when he was discovered in a cow pasture in Hoquiam. He had become disoriented in a storm and had veered far from the open ocean where he should have been foraging for food. Because of his small size and lack of survival skills, the National Marine Fisheries Service declared Al unfit for release back into the wild, and he was brought to live at the Seattle Aquarium. He was soon given the name Al, after the newly-inaugurated and conservation-minded, Vice President Al Gore. Al went on to thrive at the Aquarium and eventually picked up the nickname, “Big Al.” As an adult male, he sired a pup, Isaac, who is now 11 years old and on loan for the breeding program at Boston’s New England Aquarium. At 19-and-a-half years old, Big Al lived longer than any other male fur seal at the Aquarium. It is rare for a male fur seal in the wild to live past the mid-teens. Al’s health began to decline. It was difficult for him to eat and he was unable to haul himself out of the water. The staff, in consultation with the Aquarium’s veterinarian, agreed that it was time to humanely euthanize him (December 13, 2011). Al will be greatly missed.

More on the way?

In 2009, with the hope of increasing the captive population of Northern fur seals, the Seattle Aquarium collaborated with the New York Aquarium and the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut to move the animals with the highest breeding potential to the New England Aquarium. The Seattle Aquarium received Commander and sent Isaac, a ten-year-old male. Isaac has been seen breeding with up to three different females and we hope to hear soon that a pup is on the way!