Southern elephant seal movements and Antarctic sea ice

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Between December 1996 and February 1997, weaned pups and postmoult female elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) were fitted with satellite transmitters at King George Island (South Shetlands). Of the nine adult females tracked for more than two months, three stayed in a localized area between the South Shetlands and the South Orkneys. The other six females travelled southwest along the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula up to the Bellingshausen Sea. Two of them then moved far northeast and hauled out on South Georgia in October. One female was last located north of the South Shetlands in March 1998. In total, eight females were again sighted on King George Island and six of the transmitters removed. The tracks of the weaners contrasted with those of the adults. In January, five juveniles left King George Island for the Pacific sector ranging about four weeks in the open sea west of the De Gerlache Seamounts. Three of them returned to the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula in June, of which one was last located on the Patagonian Shelf in November 1997. The juveniles avoided sea ice while the adults did not. The latter displayed behavioural differences in using the pack ice habitat during winter. Some females adjusted their movement patterns to the pulsating sea ice fringe in far-distant foraging areas while others ranged in closed pack ice of up to 100 %. The feeding grounds of adult female elephant seals are more closely associated with the pack ice zone than previously assumed. The significance of midwaterfish Pleuragramma antarcticum as a potential food resource is discussed.

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Bornemann, H. , Kreyscher, M. , Ramdohr, S. , Martin, T. , Carlini, A. , Sellmann, L. and Plötz, J. (2000): Southern elephant seal movements and Antarctic sea ice , Antarctic Science, 12 , pp. 3-15 .

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