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Dive behaviour, foraging locations, and maternal attendance patterns of Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus)

by J P Y Arnould, M A Hindell
Canadian Journal of Zoology ()

Abstract

The dive behaviour, foraging locations, and colony-attendance patterns of female Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) from Kanowna Island (39°10¢ S, 146°18¢E) in Bass Strait, southeastern Australia, were determined throughout lactation during 1997–1999. Foraging-trip durations increased as lactation progressed, being shortest in summer (3.71 ± 0.24 days; mean ± 1 SE) and longest in winter (6.77 ± 0.57 days, P < 0.05), but maternalattendance periods did not differ in duration (1.70 ± 0.10 days, P > 0.5). Individual mean attendance periods and trip durations were positively correlated (r2 = 0.21, P < 0.005). Diving commenced shortly after seals left the colony (2.6 ± 0.4 h), was continuous for long periods (up to 36 h), occurred mostly during daylight hours, and lacked regular diel variation in depth. The majority of dives (78%) were typically U-shaped and reached depths corresponding to the prevailing depths in Bass Strait (65–85 m), indicating that these animals forage mostly on the benthos of the shallow continental shelf in this region. Such behaviour is unusual for fur seals but is reminiscent of that of some sea lion species. Mean dive durations varied between 2.0 and 3.7 min (maximum 8.9 min) and the theoretical aerobic dive limit (3.91– 4.26 min) was exceeded on 17.3% of dives. Dive frequency (8.3 ± 0.6/h) and the proportion of time at sea spent diving (40.7 ± 2.1%) were weakly negatively related to the duration of the foraging trip (r2 = 0.07, P < 0.004, and r2 = 0.13, P < 0.0001, respectively). Data from at-sea locations showed that lactating females forage almost exclusively within Bass Strait during all seasons.

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