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Keywords:

  • Antarctic fur seals;
  • Arctocephalus gazelle;
  • South Georgia;
  • entanglement;
  • marine debris

Abstract

Neck collars of man-made marine debris were seen on 208 Antarctic fur seals (and removed from 170) during the 142 days of the 1988–1989 pup-rearing season at Bird Island, South Georgia. This represents at least 0.1% of the total Bird Island population and a minimum of 0.4% of animals in the best covered areas; a maximum value might approach 1%. Polypropylene straps (packaging bands) formed 59% of collars, nylon string (16%), fishing net (13%) and six other materials comprised the rest. Males accounted for 71% of entanglements, 88% of which were of young (1–4 yr old) animals; females accounted for 64% of animals older than this. Obvious physical injury was being caused to 30% of animals and only on 19% of animals was the collar loose enough potentially to come off. The magnitude of the problem at South Georgia is similar to that with northern fur seals at the Pribilof Islands, where a significant population decline has occurred concurrently. Antarctic fur seals are still increasing in numbers but stricter controls on the jettisoning of debris into the Southern Ocean ate needed if the entanglement problem is not to increase beyond the level of a potential threat.