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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 378:299-308 (2009)  -  DOI:

Diverse foraging strategies in lactating New Zealand sea lions

B. Louise Chilvers1,*, Ian S. Wilkinson1,2

1Marine Conservation Unit, Department of Conservation, PO Box 10420, Wellington 6143, New Zealand
2Department of Environment and Conservation, Locked Bag 914, Coffs Harbour, New South Wales 2450, Australia

ABSTRACT: Diving and foraging behaviours of marine predators are thought to be coupled with species demographics, with benthic foraging species found to have small population sizes and low growth rates. This was thought to be the case for New Zealand (NZ) sea lions Phocarctos hookeri, previously identified as solely benthic foragers with a small declining population. Female NZ sea lions dive deeper and for longer than any other otariids (eared seals). They exceed their calculated aerobic dive limits (cADL) during 68% of all dives, indicating that they are operating near their maximum physiological capacity. Recently, however, individual NZ sea lions have been found to have 2 distinct dive profile types or foraging patterns: a benthic diving profile and a deeper, more varied meso-pelagic diving profile. The ecological significance and implications of individual foraging specialisation in otariids have had limited attention in the past. Here, we compared the foraging behaviour of female NZ sea lions that use these 2 distinct dive profiles and discuss how the 2 foraging patterns may indicate differing prey choice, as well as their possible implications for individual reproductive ability and interactions with fisheries and, therefore, species demographics. Our ultimate goal is to understand the causes of this individual foraging specialisation and to incorporate such variation when determining management options for this threatened, declining species.

KEY WORDS: New Zealand sea lions · Phocarctos hookeri · Individual foraging strategies · Population dynamics · Management

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Cite this article as: Chilvers BL, Wilkinson IS (2009) Diverse foraging strategies in lactating New Zealand sea lions. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 378:299-308.

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