Galapagos fur seals are less often seen than the sea lions, even though their total populations are similar. This is because fur seals prefer rockier, steeper, more rugged shores with plenty of shade. The Galapagos fur seal is less tolerant of heat than the sea lion and thus prefers cooler waters and shade. Despite their confusing name, fur seals are really a type of sea lion. Like the sea lion, the Galapagos fur seal is smaller than its nearest relatives. Visitors often find them difficult to distinguish from sea lions, but there are many minor differences that aid identification. They are smaller in overall size and the head is broader and shorter.
The Galapagos Fur Seal nose is almost pointed. The head resembles that of a bear; hence, their generic name; Arcto = bear, - cephalus = head. Their ears stick out more and the front flippers are relatively larger (they are better climbers). The eyes are also bigger giving them a sad expression.
The Galapagos fur seal voices are different from those of the Galapagos sea lions, being hoarse and more guttural, but they are less often used. The major difference is in their coat. This is much thicker and denser in the fur seal, consisting of two layers: an outer one of long hairs and an inner one of short dense fur. This coat is a magnificent insulator, enabling their relatives to live in near-freezing water, but it is somewhat of a liability in the Galapagos because of the risk of overheating. Their coat was much prized by furriers, and during the 1800s tens of thousands were taken. They were hunted almost to extinction. Benjamin Morrell reported that he took some 5,000 skins aboard his ship in only two months. Now protected from hunting, they are making a remarkable comeback, and grace many Galapagos shores. Good places to see them are at the fur seal grottos at James Bay, Santiago, and in Darwin Bay, Genovesa.