Tooth growth in male Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) from South Georgia: an indicator of long-term growth history



Growth of upper canine teeth of male Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) which died of natural causes at Bird Island, South Georgia, was quantified from measurements of annual layers in longitudinal sections of teeth. Mean age at death was 7.69±0.07 years and this showed a small but significant increase through the period when samples were collected (1972/73–1988/89). There were significant correlations between morphometrics of teeth and those of seals, suggesting that tooth growth provided an indication of body growth. Tooth growth rate was lowest in seals which died early (age 4 years) and increased with age at death. Changes in the growth pattern of teeth suggested that fur seals which became sexually mature early also died early. Tooth growth layers deposited in each calendar year were compared with the expected layer depth based on a linear relationship between layer depth and age at which each layer was deposited. There was significant variation in the depth of tooth growth layers deposited in different years, suggesting that growth was greater in some years than others. No trends in cohort strengths were detected, but particularly poor years for growth were closely related to years in which reproductive performance was also observed to be low. Variations in growth from 1967/68 to 1987/88 were correlated significantly (P < 0.008) with the Southern Oscillation Index of climatic variation.