POPULATION SIZE AND BREEDING SEASON OF THE ANTARCTIC FUR SEAL ARCTOCEPHALUS GAZELLA AT HEARD ISLAND—1987/88

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Abstract

Breeding colonies of the antarctic fur seal Arctocephalus gazella on Heard Island (53°10′S, 73°30′E) are situated on the sheltered northern and eastern coasts on flat vegetated terrain near streams and pools. Pupping in the 1987/88 summer began on 21 November, with 90% of births in 26 d. The median birth date was 11 December. Pup counts at Heard Island made in seven breeding seasons from 1962/63 to 1987/88 show an exponential rate of increase of 21%, which may be inflated due to undercounting in early years. The total of 248 births in 1987/88 represents an exponential increase of 37% since the previous year, but pups may have been undercounted then. Based on the number of pups born, the breeding population is estimated at 870–1,120. During the breeding season, the largest number of animals ashore was 835. Many non-breeding fur seals began hauling out from early January and 15,000 animals were estimated to be ashore by late February, a fat larger number than expected from the size of the breeding population. Both the breeding and non-breeding components of the population may be augmented by immigration. The source of immigrants may be undiscovered breeding colonies of this species in the northwestern sector of the Kerguelen Archipelago or the concentration at South Georgia. Further censuses are required at Heard Island to monitor the population growth.

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