About 200 years ago, early European settlers discovered the colonies of fur seals in Bass Strait. The Australian Fur Seal was hunted for its fur. During the peak of sealing, about 40 boat crews were searching for seals across Bass Strait. The fur was exported and used to make hats and other clothing.

Sealers worked very hard and within 30 years, they had killed so many seals that there weren’t enough left for the export business. Seals continued to be hunted, though. They supplied fur, meat and blubber (fat) to local communities. Oil was extracted from the blubber. About 100 years ago when alternative products became more available to the local communities sealing ended. Soon cotton and wool replaced seal fur, cow and sheep provided tastier meats and petroleum was discovered to replace seal oil.

Seal shooting in Bass Strait. Illustrated Australian News 1881.
La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria.
Sealers camp on Phillip Island near Rhyll. Illustrated Collection, State Library of Victoria.