Population size and age determination in the Antarctic fur seal Arctocephalus gazella
The population of Antarctic Fur seals Arctocephalus gazella at South Georgia is increasing rapidly and is therefore of great interest. Investigations of the population depend on two main techniques.(1) Population assessment, because the population size is now too large for direct counts to be completely reliable, and serious underestimates are appearing in areas of high density. Aerial photography was used but needs further refinement before it becomes a consistently useful technique. Marking all pups on sample beaches was largely unsuccessful because pups moved from beach to beach before they could all be marked. A mark–recapture method was finally adopted and indicated that the numbers of pups present may be up to 54% higher than the numbers actually counted.(2) The process of age determination from tooth characters, which is more difficult for Fur seals than other pinnipeds. The preparation and interpretation of the teeth of breeding cows is described, based on eleven specimens of known age. The most accurate results are obtained from whole teeth up to the age of 6, but thereafter interpretation of cement and dentine layers in thin sections must be used. It is concluded that while young animals are aged quite accurately, there is probably a tendency to underestimate the age of seals of more than 9 years.