Marine Biology

, Volume 158, Issue 9, pp 2125–2139 | Cite as

Water column use and forage strategies of female southern elephant seals from Marion Island

  • Trevor McIntyreEmail author
  • Horst Bornemann
  • Joachim Plötz
  • Cheryl A. Tosh
  • Marthán N. Bester
Original Paper


The at-sea behaviour of marine top predators provides valuable insights into the distribution of prey species and strategies used by predators to exploit patchily distributed resources. We describe the water column usage and dive strategies of female southern elephant seals from Marion Island tracked between 2004 and 2008. Dives representing increases in forage effort were identified using a method that combines dive type analyses and the calculation of relative amounts of time that animals spend in the bottom phases of dives. Results from this analysis indicate that female elephant seals from Marion Island tend to display lower levels of forage effort closer to the island and display intensive opportunistic forage bouts that occur at a minimum distance of approximately 215 km from the island. Females from Marion Island dived deeper and for longer periods of time, compared to females from other populations. Most animals displayed positive diel vertical migration, evidently foraging pelagically on vertically migrating prey. A few animals displayed periods of reverse (negative) diel vertical migration, however, diving to deeper depths at night, compared to daytime. This behaviour is difficult to explain and prey species targeted during such periods unknown. Our results illustrate plasticity in foraging behaviour of southern elephant seals, as well as inter-population differences in forage strategies.


Diel Vertical Migration Elephant Seal Dive Behaviour Dive Depth Dive Duration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Nico de Buyn, Chris Oosthuizen, Mashudu Phalanndwa, Ryan Reisinger, Thomas Mufanadzo, Phathu Radzilani, Brent Stewart and Greg Hofmeyr for assistance in the field with the deployment of satellite tags. Martin Biuw generously provided R codes (and helpful assistance) for the dive classifications and the use of the maptools package. Comments from three anonymous reviewers on a previous version of this manuscript were very constructive and greatly improved it. The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (Germany), the Department of Science and Technology through the National Research Foundation (South Africa) and the South African National Antarctic Programme provided financial and logistical support. Much of this research was carried out under the South Africa/Germany part of the project MEOP (Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole), carried out as part of the International Polar Year.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Trevor McIntyre
    • 1
    Email author
  • Horst Bornemann
    • 2
  • Joachim Plötz
    • 2
  • Cheryl A. Tosh
    • 1
  • Marthán N. Bester
    • 1
  1. 1.Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and EntomologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine ResearchBremerhavenGermany

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