Diving behaviour in relation to water temperature in the southern elephant seal: foraging implications

A time-depth-temperature recorder provided a continuous record of diving by a female southern elephant seal in relation to water temperature for 27 days (1939 dives) after completion of moult. Mean maximum dive depth was 391±2.6 m and the overall maximum was 775 m. Dives lasted on average 17.5±0.09 min. Most dives showed a rapid descent to the discontinuity between the cold surface water and warmer deep water. Consequently the seal spent 57% of its time while diving at a depth of 200–400 m when it may have been foraging. This strongly suggests that the seal was exploiting a food source at the discontinuity between vertically stratified water masses. The water temperature data also indicated that the seal was diving in waters south of the Antarctic Polar Front and at some distance from the northern edge of the pack ice. The seal spent 88% of its time under water. Normal surface intervals between dives lasted an average of 2.1 ± 0.1 min whereas 16 extended surface intervals (>10 min duration) lasted 32.7±4.6 min. Dives were deeper during the day than at night and all but one extended surface interval occurred at night. The pattern of dives was similar to records from northern elephant seals but this is the first study to show how diving behaviour relates to water temperature.


Publication status:
Authors: Boyd, I.L., Arnbom, T.

1 August, 1991
Polar Biology / 11
Link to published article: