Dynamic intra-seasonal habitat use by Antarctic fur seals suggests migratory hotspots near the Antarctic Peninsula
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Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) are major secondary consumers in the Southern Ocean, placing them in potential competition with commercial fisheries and requiring research to understand their seasonal habitat use. Using the data obtained during 14 shipboard surveys sampled on a fixed grid (150 K km2) during mid- to late summer, I quantified the spatial distribution and intra-seasonal variability of fur seal sightings relative to distance to land and hydrographic boundaries. I test the hypothesis that fur seals display an increase in their at-sea abundance during mid- to late summer near the Antarctic Peninsula as they prepare to take up wintering grounds. I also test whether abundances of their potential prey, krill and myctophids, exhibit intra-seasonal variability. During midsummer, high-abundance areas are located near major breeding colonies; however, during late summer, there is an order-of-magnitude increase in fur seal abundance, coinciding with an increase in the number of high-abundance areas located in Bransfield Strait. Coincidently, abundance of Euphausia superba decreased and the myctophid Electrona antarctica increased between mid- and late-summer surveys. High-abundance areas of fur seals are not associated with the southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current front but are concentrated within 100 km from land, potentially indicating the location of haul out and important coastal habitat use areas. The dynamic increase in the number and location of high-abundance areas during late summer represents a considerable amount of mammalian predators entering the Antarctic Peninsula marine ecosystem. This information is important for understanding the seasonal impact of fur seals on regional marine food webs and their potential interaction with the autumn–winter krill fishery.
KeywordsAntarctic Peninsula South Shetland Island Mesopelagic Fish Southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current Front Shipboard Survey
I greatly appreciate the effort and dedication of the many cruise participants of the US Antarctic Marine Living Resource (AMLR) program. Special thanks to Michael P. Force and Darci Lombard for their assistance in surveying seabirds and marine mammals, and Michael Goebel and Christian S. Reiss for valuable discussion. The feedback from three anonymous reviewers and the editor greatly improved this paper. This research was supported by AMLR contracts to J. A. Santora and NSF-OPP Grants (9983751, 0337648) to R. R. Veit.
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