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Elephant seal foraging success is enhanced in Antarctic coastal polynyas


Arce, F and Hindell, MA and McMahon, CR and Wotherspoon, SJ and Guinet, C and Harcourt, RG and Bestley, S, Elephant seal foraging success is enhanced in Antarctic coastal polynyas, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences, 289, (1967) Article 20212452. ISSN 0962-8452 (2022) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

2022 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.

DOI: doi:10.1098/rspb.2021.2452


Antarctic polynyas are persistent open water areas which enable early and large seasonal phytoplankton blooms. This high primary productivity, boosted by iron supply from coastal glaciers, attracts organisms from all trophic levels to form a rich and diverse community. How the ecological benefit of polynya productivity is translated to the highest trophic levels remains poorly resolved. We studied 119 southern elephant seals feeding over the Antarctic shelf and demonstrated that: (i) 96% of seals foraging here used polynyas, with individuals spending on average 62% of their time there; (ii) the seals exhibited more area-restricted search behaviour when in polynyas; and (iii) these seals gained more energy (indicated by increased buoyancy from greater fat stores) when inside polynyas. This higher-quality foraging existed even when ice was not present in the study area, indicating that these are important and predictable foraging grounds year-round. Despite these energetic advantages from using polynyas, not all the seals used them extensively. Factors other than food supply may influence an individual's choice in their use of feeding grounds, such as exposure to predation or the probability of being able to return to distant sub-Antarctic breeding sites.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Mirounga leonina, body condition, drift rates, Southern Ocean, post-polynyas, foraging behaviour
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments
Objective Field:Assessment and management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems
UTAS Author:Arce, F (Mr Fernando Arce Gonzalez)
UTAS Author:Hindell, MA (Professor Mark Hindell)
UTAS Author:McMahon, CR (Dr Clive McMahon)
UTAS Author:Wotherspoon, SJ (Dr Simon Wotherspoon)
UTAS Author:Bestley, S (Dr Sophie Bestley)
ID Code:148510
Year Published:2022
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (DE180100828)
Web of Science® Times Cited:1
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2022-01-17
Last Modified:2022-10-13

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