Chemical communication underpins virtually all aspects of vertebrate social life, yet remains poorly understood because of its highly complex mechanistic basis. We therefore used chemical fingerprinting of skin swabs and genetic analysis to explore the chemical cues that may underlie mother–offspring recognition in colonially breeding Antarctic fur seals. By sampling mother–offspring pairs from two different colonies, using a variety of statistical approaches and genotyping a large panel of microsatellite loci, we show that colony membership, mother–offspring similarity, heterozygosity, and genetic relatedness are all chemically encoded. Moreover, chemical similarity between mothers and offspring reflects a combination of genetic and environmental influences, the former partly encoded by substances resembling known pheromones. Our findings reveal the diversity of information contained within chemical fingerprints and have implications for understanding mother–offspring communication, kin recognition, and mate choice.