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Distribution, abundance and breeding cycle of the Australian sea lion Neophoca cinerea (Mammalia: Pinnipedia)

Authors

  • N. J. Gales,

    1. School of Veterinary Studies, Murdoch University, Western Australia 6150, Australia
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    • 2

      Conservation Sciences Centre, PO Box 10–420, Wellington, New Zealand

  • P. D. Shaughnessy,

    1. CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology, PO Box 84, Lyneham, ACT 2602, Australia
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  • T. E. Dennis

    1. School of Veterinary Studies, Murdoch University, Western Australia 6150, Australia
    2. South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, PO Box 39, Kingscote, South Australia 5223, Australia
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Abstract

Surveys of the Australian sea lion Neophoca cinerea were conducted throughout its range in Western and South Australia between December 1987 and February 1992. Almost every island was visited between Houtman Abrolhos and The Pages (n = 255), many of them more than once.

Sea lions breed on at least 50 islands, 27 in Western Australia and 23 in South Australia. Of the 50 breeding sites, 31 have not been reported previously. A further 19 islands may also support breeding colonies. A total of 1,941 pups was counted and pup production was estimated at 2,432. Only five colonies produced more than 100 pups each and they accounted for almost half of the pup production. Most of these colonies are near Kangaroo Island, South Australia. A breeding cycle of 17–18 months has been reported for N. cinerea at Kangaroo Island and on the west coast of Western Australia; this was also noted at another 11 islands where repeated visits coincided with breeding. No evidence was found for breeding seasons shorter or longer than 17–18 months. The breeding season was not synchronized between islands, as it is in other pinnipeds. A predictive model is developed to estimate the population size from pup production figures. It indicates that pup numbers should be multiplied by between 3.81 and 4.81 to estimate the total population size just before the pupping season begins. This leads to estimates of 9,300–11,700 for the total population, considerably greater than earlier estimates.

Causes of the unique reproductive cycle of N. cinerea are unknown, but we hypothesize that it results from living in a temperate climate in some of the most biologically depauperate waters of the world. It is also clear that day length and water temperature cannot act as exogenous cues for implantation of the blastocyst; the physiological events of gestation must, rather, be cued endogenously.

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