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Keywords:

  • fur seal;
  • Arctocephalus gazella;
  • foraging;
  • diving;
  • krill

Abstract

This study investigated how female Antarctic fur seals adapt their foraging behavior, over time scales of days, to spatial unpredictability in the distribution of their food. Lactating Antarctic fur seals are central-place foragers that feed on highly patchy but spatially and temporally dynamic food. We measured the foraging distribution of 28 fur seals to test whether variation in foraging trip durations was reflected in variation in the location of foraging and the diving behavior of seals at sea. Based on the maximum distance travelled from the breeding beach, three categories of foraging trips were denned: those to the continental shelf area (n= 12, median = 71 km), to oceanic water (n= 11, median =164 km), and to farther offshore oceanic waters (n= 5, median = 260 km). Trip duration and mean surface speed were positively correlated with the maximum distance travelled from the breeding beach. Seals on longer trips spent proportionally less of their time submerged, but there was no significant difference in the total number of dives or the total time spent foraging by seals in relation to trip duration. Evidence from this study and previous work investigating energy gain suggests that an animal on a longer foraging trip could potentially have a higher mean energy return per dive than a similar animal on a shorter foraging trip. Evidence presented suggests that the type of foraging trip (near or far) is not predetermined by the animal but may be a simple response to the stochastic distribution of the resources available.