GROWTH AND DISTRIBUTION OF A SOUTHERN ELEPHANT SEAL COLONY

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Abstract

In contrast with most southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina, colonies, births at Península Valdes, Argentina, increased from 7,455 in 1982 to 9,636 in 1990. Colony size during the 1990 breeding season, including pups, was estimated at 19,000. Colony growth may respond to abundant food resources and lack of competitors. The range of distribution of elephant seals in Patagonia has not changed since at least 1972 but the spatial distribution of births along the coastline of Peninsula Valdes has varied. In 1982, 58% of the births occurred in the northeast portion of the Peninsula versus 36% in 1990. Females may prefer to give birth on broad, sandy beaches. In 1982, 56% of the females gave birth on pebble beaches and 44% on sandy beaches. In 1990, 24% bred on pebbles versus 76% on sand. Sand substrate may be preferred by females because it may confer thermoregulatory advantages in relieving heat stress.

Ancillary