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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 245:281-297 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps245281

Antarctic fur seals foraging in the Polar Frontal Zone: inter-annual shifts in diet as shown from fecal and fatty acid analyses

Mary-Anne Lea1,2,*, Yves Cherel2, Christophe Guinet2, Peter D. Nichols3,4

1Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, PO Box 252-05, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
2Centre d¹Etudes Biologiques de Chizé-CNRS, 79360 Beauvoir-sur-Niort, France
3Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Marine Research, Castray Explanade, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
4Antarctic Commonwealth Research Centre, University of Tasmania, PO Box 252-80, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia

ABSTRACT: We studied the dietary preferences of Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus gazella from Cap Noir, Îles Kerguelen, foraging in the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone (PFZ) in February of 1998, 1999 and 2000. Scats were collected and analyzed for remaining prey hard parts in each of the 3 years, and in 1999 and 2000, the fatty acid (FA) composition of fur seal milk samples was also examined for longer-term dietary preferences. Scat analyses revealed that seals foraged primarily on fish and some squid in all 3 years with 25 species of fish being taken during the study. Myctophid fish accounted for an average of 94% by number of all fish consumed with 3 species, Gymnoscopelus nicholsi, G. piabilis and Electrona subaspera, forming the core diet. Inter-annual differences in dietary species composition were apparent, however, with the presence of the mackerel icefish Champsocephalus gunnari in 1998 and the myctophid Protomyctophum tenisoni in 1999 accounting primarily for the differences observed between years. While reconstituted prey biomass per scat was similar between years, scats from 1998 represented less energy per gram than those from 1999 and 2000. This study highlights the usefulness of using FA signature analysis to confirm longer-term shifts in dietary intake of fur seals using milk samples. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) were significantly more prevalent in the 1999 milk samples, which were also lower in overall lipid content (43% vs 53%). G. nicholsi, a particularly oily fish, occurred in higher proportions in the diet in 2000, perhaps explaining the higher incidence of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in this year and the generally higher lipid levels present in milk samples. The inter-annual variation in the diet of Antarctic fur seals confirmed by these 2 techniques lends support to the hypothesis that previously identified variations in oceanographic conditions surrounding Îles Kerguelen in 1998, 1999 and 2000 affect the availability of fur seal prey resources.

KEY WORDS: Myctophid · Fatty acid · Kerguelen · Lipids · Fish · Squid · Arctocephalus gazella

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