Cephalopod prey of the southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina L.
In the austral summers of 1986 and 1988–1989, 51 southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) at Husvik, South Georgia (54°10′S; 36°43′W), were stomach lavaged after chemical immobilization. Only cephalopod remains were retrieved, including 1070 lower beaks that were identified and measured. In total these were estimated to represent a wet weight of 187.8 kg. Fourteen species of squid from 11 families and 2 species of octopod from 1 family were present. The most important species overall were the squids Psychroteuthis glacialis in terms of numerical abundance (33.7%) and Moroteuthis knipovitchi in terms of estimated biomass (31.2%). The remaining biomass was mainly comprised of the five large muscular squids, Kondakovia longimana (24.0%), P. glacialis (15.4%), Martialia hyadesi (11.2%), Alluroteuthis antarcticus (10.8%), and Gonatus antarcticus (3.6%). Larger seals of both sexes fed on a wider variety of cephalopod species than smaller seals, with large males taking the greatest diversity. Between the two summers of the study there were some changes in the relative importance of the various cephalopod species consumed; in particular, in 1988–1989 M. knipovitchi and M. hyadesi were less important and P. glacialis was more important. The taxa and size of cephalopods taken by southern elephant seals at South Georgia are almost identical to those taken by the grey-headed albatross (Diomedea chrysostoma), but the relative proportions are quite different. The biogeography of the cephalopods eaten suggests that southern elephant seals sampled at South Georgia do not forage to the north of the Antarctic Polar Front but probably travel southwards towards the Antarctic continent or Peninsula.