DEMOGRAPHY AND BREEDING BIOLOGY OF A SMALL, LOCALIZED POPULATION OF SOUTHERN ELEPHANT SEALS (MIROUNGA LEONINA)

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Abstract

Southern elephant seals have been studied in depth in most of their breeding range. One notable exception is the Falkland Islands population. We present data on demography and breeding biology of elephant seals of Sea Lion Island, the main breeding site of this species in the Falklands. Sea Lion Island shelters a small, localized population of southern elephant seals (516 breeding females in 1995 and 518 in 1996). Comparison with the few available census data collected prior to our study suggests that the population has been stable in the short term (1989-1996). Females produced pups at maximum rate and pup mortality was low (2.13%). Breeding sex ratio was strongly unbalanced, with about 14 females per breeding male and 47 females per harem-holding male at peak haul-out. Survival rate between breeding seasons was 67.4% for females and 50% for males. Timing of the breeding season was very similar to that recorded in other populations and was in accordance with clinal variation with latitude. Sex ratio at birth was balanced, and no significant weight dimorphism at weaning between sexes was detected (males: 135.4 kg; females: 132.0 kg). Weaning weight was correlated with size class of the mother.

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