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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 649:201-218 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13446

Geographic variation in at-sea movements, habitat use and diving behaviour of female Cape fur seals

J. A. Botha1,*, S. P. Kirkman1,2, J. P. Y. Arnould3, A. T. Lombard1, G. J. G. Hofmeyr1,4, M. A. Meÿer2,5, P. G. H. Kotze2, P. A. Pistorius1

1Marine Apex Predator Research Unit (MAPRU), Department of Zoology and Institute for Coastal and Marine Research, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa
2Oceans and Coastal Research, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Private Bag X4390, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
3Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia
4Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld, PO Box 13147, Port Elizabeth 6013, South Africa
5South African Whale Disentanglement Network, 15 Pinedene Road, Hout Bay 7806, South Africa
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Knowledge of animal foraging behaviour has implications for management and conservation. While Cape fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus comprise a major proportion of the southern African marine predator biomass, little is known about their at-sea movements. We investigated foraging distribution, habitat use and diving behaviour for 35 adult female Cape fur seals from 3 breeding colonies experiencing contrasting oceanographic regimes. Animals from Black Rocks, the smallest and eastern-most colony, undertook shorter foraging trips and utilised shallower waters over the shelf. In comparison, animals from the larger west coast colonies, at Kleinsee and False Bay, travelled further and utilised deeper shelf and shelf-slope waters. However, across colonies, females typically preferred depths of <500 m and slopes of <5°. Kleinsee and False Bay seals selected sea surface temperatures within the range typically preferred by pelagic prey species such as round herring, sardine and anchovy (14-19°C). Black Rocks individuals showed bimodal preferences for colder (16°C) and warmer waters (>22°C). Dive behaviour was similar between Kleinsee and False Bay individuals (unavailable from Black Rocks), with both pelagic and benthic foraging evident. Diel patterns were apparent at both sites, as dive depth and benthic diving increased significantly during daylight hours, likely reflecting vertical movements of prey species. We provide the first assessment of Cape fur seal movement behaviour for the South African component of the population. Observed geographic differences likely reflect the availability of suitable habitat but may also indicate differences in foraging strategies and density-dependent effects throughout the range of this species.


KEY WORDS: Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus · South Africa · Benguela · Agulhas · Habitat selection · Movement ecology · Inter-colony differences · Top predators


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Cite this article as: Botha JA, Kirkman SP, Arnould JPY, Lombard AT and others (2020) Geographic variation in at-sea movements, habitat use and diving behaviour of female Cape fur seals. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 649:201-218. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13446

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