Life of Arcto
By Marc Alexander from his ‘In The Balance’ series. Life of Arcto, oil and silver leaf on canvas,120cm by 200cm, (2016)
Life of Arcto – I have named my Cape Fur seal ‘Arcto’, because he is one of the seven species in the Arctocephalus genus that is found primarily in the southern hemisphere. Arcto lives on the eastern side of the Cape peninsula in False Bay. The Kalk Bay harbour is his favourite hang-out, where he is fondly referred to by the local fisherman as ‘Surprise’, because of his ability to get up onto the harbour wall and surprise you with a big fright.
My painting depicts Arcto floating in a worn-out rowboat, with nothing but squawking seagulls for companions. If you look carefully you will also see a trail of fish swimming just below the surface of the water. I imagined him on a journey far out at sea in the North Pacific Ocean in search of his love, a female Northern Fur Seal named Cal. The title ‘Life of Arcto’ is inspired by the 2012 movie ‘Life of Pi’, also depicting a watery journey with animals in a small boat. I saw this old rowboat tied to a jetty near Kalky’s, a popular ‘vis en tjips’ harbour restaurant that we frequent as a family, and knew immediately that I wanted to use it as a reference in this painting. The seagulls are also a common sight at the harbour.
I loved painting this large sea mammal with his dog-like head and long whiskers. Arcto is the largest male seal at the harbour and significantly larger than any of the females that he is quit protective of. He mostly enjoys eating fish, especially the offcuts discarded by the fishermen, but he will also have an occasional squid, crustacean or sometimes even a bird.
An interesting fact about fur seals is the way in which they sleep. They have two sleeping patterns, one on land and one in the water. On land they sleep more like land mammals, occasionally opening their eyes to look out for predators. In the ocean they rest different parts of their brain at different times and stay afloat by paddling with one foreflipper, briefly opening one eye to watch for sharks or killer whales. They can also dive to depths of over 200m and hold their breath for up to 7.5 minutes.
Cape fur seals have been protected in South Africa since 1893 but were still commercially harvested until 1990’s by the government (Butterworth et al. 1995).