Interannual variation in pup production and the timing of breeding in benthic foraging Australian fur seals



Large interannual variations in reproductive success caused by fluctuations in oceanography and prey availability are common to many species of air breathing epipelagic predators. In contrast, little is known about variation in benthic foragers such as Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus). Between 1997 and 2007, pup production was assessed in 9 yr, while the timing of breeding and adult female condition was assessed in 5 yr at Kanowna Island in Bass Strait, southeastern Australia. Pup production was variable (inline image= 1,726 ± 42, range = 1,386–2,301), but without temporal trend, as was median birth date (inline image= 23 November ± 1, range = 21–25 November) and pupping synchrony (period of 90% births: inline image= 28 ± 2 d, range = 23–31 d). Pup production was negatively correlated with median birth date and positively correlated with female condition, winter sea-surface temperature (SST) and zonal wind strength within Bass Strait. Pup production was also negatively correlated with SST in the previous summer within Bass Strait and in the eastern Great Australian Bight upwelling region. The results suggest that the reproductive success of Australian fur seals is influenced by oceanography but less so than in otariids foraging epipelagically in major upwellings. Despite spanning several El Niño events, no correlation between pup production and the Southern Oscillation Index was observed.