Winter distribution and haul-out behaviour of female Antarctic fur seals from South Georgia
Telemetry-based techniques have revealed the foraging patterns of many land breeding marine predators, especially during the summer breeding season. However, during the winter, when freed from the constraints of provisioning their young, such animals are more difficult to track. Using geolocation (Global Location Sensing, GLS) loggers and satellite tags (Platform Terminal Transmitters, PTTs) we successfully tracked 16 female Antarctic fur seals from South Georgia during the austral winter. The majority of females concentrated their winter foraging in the waters around the breeding beaches (90% of locations were within 510 km). However, as the winter progressed, two of the seals spent a number of months to the south, in and around the seasonal ice edge, and five seals migrated north and northwest from South Georgia. Four of these seals clearly crossed the Polar Front and two reached the Patagonian Shelf, apparently exploiting the continental shelf edge and the Subantarctic Front. Activity (saltwater immersion) data suggested that seals spent the majority of the winter months at sea but there were rare occasions when seals hauled out, either on land or on ice floes. We obtained data from two individuals that enabled us to compare the performance of PTT and GLS devices. For these seals the mean distance between GLS and PTT locations was 122 and 132 km. Although the recovery rates were low in this study, given improvements in attachment techniques, we have demonstrated that these micro-geolocation loggers provide an ideal tool with which to study the long-term dispersal of diving marine predators at larger scales. This is the first study to show that female fur seals from South Georgia remain at sea for almost the entirety of the non-breeding winter period. Using land-based observations it has been assumed that the fur seal population at South Georgia has little temporal overlap with the krill fishery that operates mostly during the winter months in this region. We have shown that a large proportion of the female fur seals that breed on South Georgia potentially remain in the vicinity of the island and are thus in direct competition with the region's fisheries activities.