The role of eddies in the diving behaviour of female southern elephant seals

Horst.Bornemann [ at ]


As the Antarctic Circumpolar Current crosses the South-West Indian Ocean Ridge, it creates an extensive eddy field characterised by high sea level anomaly variability. We investigated the diving behaviour of female southern elephant seals from Marion Island during their post-moult migrations in relation to this eddy field in order to determine its role in the animals’ at-sea dispersal. Most seals dived within the region significantly more often than predicted by chance, and these dives were generally shallower and shorter than dives outside the eddy field. Mixed effects models estimated reductions of 44.33 ± 3.00 m (maximum depth) and 6.37 ± 0.10 min (dive duration) as a result of diving within the region, along with low between-seal variability (maximum depth: 5.5 % and dive duration: 8.4 %). U-shaped dives increased in frequency inside the eddy field, whereas W-shaped dives with multiple vertical movements decreased. Results suggest that Marion Island’s adult female elephant seals’ dives are characterised by lowered cost-of-transport when they encounter the eddy field during the start and end of their post-moult migrations. This might result from changes in buoyancy associated with varying body condition upon leaving and returning to the island. Our results do not suggest that the eddy field is a vital foraging ground for Marion Island’s southern elephant seals. However, because seals preferentially travel through this area and likely forage opportunistically while minimising transport costs, we hypothesise that climate-mediated changes in the nature or position of this region may alter the seals’ at-sea dispersal patterns.

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DOI 10.1007/s00300-015-1782-0

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Massie, P. P. , McIntyre, T. , Ryan, P. G. , Bester, M. N. , Bornemann, H. and Ansorge, I. J. (2016): The role of eddies in the diving behaviour of female southern elephant seals , Polar Biology, 39 (2), pp. 297-307 . doi: 10.1007/s00300-015-1782-0


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