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Dive behaviour and foraging effort of female Cape fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus.

  • Author(s): Kirkman, SP
  • Costa, DP
  • Harrison, A-L
  • Kotze, PGH
  • Oosthuizen, WH
  • Weise, M
  • Botha, JA
  • Arnould, JPY
  • et al.
Abstract

While marine top predators can play a critical role in ecosystem structure and dynamics through their effects on prey populations, how the predators function in this role is often not well understood. In the Benguela region of southern Africa, the Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) population constitutes the largest marine top predator biomass, but little is known of its foraging ecology other than its diet and some preliminary dive records. Dive information was obtained from 32 adult females instrumented with dive recorders at the Kleinsee colony (29°34.17' S, 16°59.80' E) in South Africa during 2006-2008. Most dives were in the depth range of epipelagic prey species (less than 50 m deep) and at night, reflecting the reliance of Cape fur seals on small, vertically migrating, schooling prey. However, most females also performed benthic dives, and benthic diving was prevalent in some individuals. Benthic diving was significantly associated with the frequency with which females exceeded their aerobic dive limit. The greater putative costs of benthic diving highlight the potential detrimental effects to Cape fur seals of well-documented changes in the availability of epipelagic prey species in the Benguela.

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