Antarctic Science

Papers—Life Sciences and Oceanography

Foraging ecology of southern elephant seals in relation to the bathymetry and productivity of the Southern Ocean

B. J. McConnell a1, C. Chambers a1 and M. A. Fedak a1
a1 Sea Mammal Research Unit, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

Article author query
mcconnell b   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
chambers c   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
fedak m   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) are among the most proficient of mammalian divers and are a major component of the Antarctic food web. Yet little is known of their movements or interaction with their oceanic environment. Specially designed satellite-link data loggers allowed us to visualize the 3-D movements of elephant seals as they swam rapidly from South Georgia to distant (up to 2650 km) areas of Antarctic continental shelf. One seal dived continuously to the sea bed in one small area for a month, implying consumption of benthic prey. Dives here were shorter even though average swimming velocity was lower. It is suggested that the physiological requirements of feeding and digestion reduced the aerobic dive limit. Long distance travel to relocatable hydrographic or topographical features, such as shelf breaks, may allow large predators to locate prey more consistently than from mid-ocean searches.

(Received November 20 1991)
(Accepted March 13 1992)

Key Words: southern elephant seal; Mirounga; Antarctica; foraging; dive physiology.