Seasonal occurrence and diet of leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) at Bird Island, South Georgia
Seasonal haul-out patterns and diet of individually marked leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) were investigated at Bird Island, South Georgia during the 1983–96 winters. A total of 2956 leopard seal sightings were made, and 121 seals were tagged during the study, mainly between 1993 and 1996. Photographs of scars and pelage patterns were also used to identify a subset of these individuals across years, which provided no evidence of tag loss between or within years. Leopard seals were observed between April and November; the mean time between the first and last sightings in each year was 208 d (s d ± 48). Between 1993–96, eight seals were resident around the island for more than 100 d, and the longest recorded residence was 130 d. The proportion of tagged seals resighted was 0.35 and 0.17 in 1995 and 1996 respectively. Based on estimates of body length, 70% were not sexually mature. There was considerable inter-annual variation in abundance, with a maximum of 502 sightings during 1994, compared with a minimum of 21 during 1986 and 1989. Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) were the main prey item (58% of kills observed and 53% of scats). Other items included penguins (28% of kills observed and 20% of scats) and fish (24% of scats). Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) and seabirds other than penguins were also present in the diet in small quantities.
Authors: Walker, T. R., Boyd, I. L., McCafferty, D. J., Huin, N., Taylor, R. I., Reid, K.