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|Seasonal and colony differences in the foraging ecology of New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri).
|Baylis, Alastair Martin Mitri
|School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
|The New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) is the most abundant fur seal species in the Australian-New Zealand region. Approximately 85 % of Australia’s population of New Zealand fur seals reside in the state of South Australia. As a result of their abundance and size, it has been estimated that the New Zealand fur seal population in South Australia consumes the greatest biomass of resources of all marine mammal and seabird species. However, despite the importance of New Zealand fur seals as top predators, our understanding of their foraging ecology in South Australia is limited. In order to better understand the habitat utilized and the diet of New Zealand fur seals, this study explores the foraging ecology of lactating seals from four primary colonies in South Australia, which account for ~ 78 % of the Australian population. These colonies are Cape Gantheaume (36о04’S, 137о27’E) and Cape du Couedic (36о03’S, 136о42’E) on Kangaroo Island; North Neptune Island (35о13’S, 136о03’E) and Liguanea Island (34о59’S, 135о37’E). I start this study by assessing the seasonal variation in foraging location and dive behaviour of lactating New Zealand fur seals from Cape Gantheaume. 18 seals were fitted with satellite transmitters and time depth recorders (TDRs). The presence of thermoclines (derived from TDRs), were used as a surrogate measure of upwelling activity in continental shelf habitats. During the austral autumn 80 % of lactating fur seals foraged on the continental shelf (114 ± 44 km from the colony), in a region associated with a seasonal coastal upwelling system, the Bonney upwelling. In contrast, during winter months seals predominantly foraged in oceanic waters (62 %), in a region associated with the Subtropical Front (460 ± 138 km from the colony). Results suggested that lactating New Zealand fur seals shift their foraging location from continental shelf to oceanic habitats, in response to a seasonal decline in continental shelf productivity, attributed to the cessation of the Bonney upwelling in autumn. To study inter-colony differences in foraging locations, 21 New Zealand fur seals were satellite tracked from four colonies within close proximity (46 km – 200km apart). Seals initiated foraging trips on a colony-specific bearing (Cape Gantheaume 141 ± 33º, Cape du Couedic 186 ± 12º, North Neptune Island 200 ± 23º and Liguanea Island 234 ± 69º), and recorded little overlap between colony-specific foraging areas. The distribution of colony-specific foraging grounds appeared to be influenced by the proximity of colonies to predictable local upwelling features, as well as a distant oceanic frontal zone, the Subtropical Front. Foraging site fidelity and route-choice was further assessed by comparing site fidelity between continental shelf and oceanic habitats. Data from 31 lactating females, satellite tracked over 107 consecutive foraging trips indicated that females foraging on the continental shelf recorded a significantly greater overlap in foraging area between consecutive foraging routes, when compared to females that foraged in oceanic waters (55.9 ± 20.4 % and 13.4 ± 7.6 %, respectively). Findings suggest that seals learn the direction of travel to a predictable foraging region, and initiate a foraging trip on that bearing. However, actual foraging routes are likely to be influenced by a number of factors including previous foraging trip experience and prey encounter rate, which is related to prey density and the spatial scale of the patch exploited. The final chapter integrates scat analysis with milk fatty acid (FA) analysis to investigate dietary differences between continental shelf and oceanic waters. Milk FA composition was determined for 29 satellite-tracked fur seals, that were known to forage in either shelf or oceanic habitats. Based on FA compositions, I predicted the likelihood that milk samples collected at random (n = 131) represented individual seals having foraged either on the continental shelf or in distant oceanic waters. FA analysis and satellite tracking results contrasted with scat analyses, from which only 6 % of scats by frequency of occurrence contained prey remains from oceanic waters. The results suggest that scats were biased toward females foraging on the continental shelf. This study highlights the importance of two predictable ocean features utilised by New Zealand fur seals; (1) a nearby and seasonally predictable coastal upwelling system, the Bonney upwelling and; (2) a distant but permanent oceanic front, the Subtropical Front.
Goldsworthy, Simon D.
|Thesis (Ph.D.) - University of Adelaide, School of Earth and Environmental Studies, 2008
|New Zealand fur seal Ecology South Australia.
New Zealand fur seal Geographical distribution.
Seal populations Australia.
|New Zealand fur seal; Colony specific foraging; Foraging site fidelity; Subtropical front; Bonney upwelling; Seasonal foraging; Fatty acid analysis
|Copyright material removed from digital thesis. See print copy in University of Adelaide Library for full text.
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