Microsatellites were used to conduct an analysis of paternity of Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) from Bird Island, South Georgia. At most, only 28% of pups at our study site could be assigned a father, even though the majority (-90%) of candidate males within this colony were sampled. The behavioural and genetic evidence from this study suggests that a number of alternative mating strategies may exist within this fur seal population. Holding a land-based territory conferred an advantage to male reproductive success. However, this advantage was much smaller than expected from behavioural observations. At least 70% of fur seal pups born at our study site in a given year are not fathered by males who held a territory or were observed copulating with females in the previous year, implying that there exists a pool of males that seldom venture ashore at this site. To explain this discrepancy we suggest that female choice is an integral component of the Antarctic fur seal mating system and that aquatic mating may play a much larger role in the Antarctic fur seal than previously thought.
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