Antarctic Science

Biological Sciences

Deep divers in even deeper seas: habitat use of male southern elephant seals from Marion Island

Trevor Mcintyrea1 c1, Horst Bornemanna2, Joachim Plötza2, Cheryl A. Tosha1 and Marthán N. Bestera1

a1 Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X20, Hatfield 0028, South Africa

a2 Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Postfach 120161, D-27515 Bremerhaven, Germany


We describe the habitat use of 22 male southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) satellite tagged at Marion Island between 2004 and 2008. While a few areas of increased utilization appeared to be associated with areas of shallower bathymetry (such as sea-floor ridges and fracture zones), seals in our study did not target other areas of shallow bathymetry within close proximity to Marion Island. Rather, most elephant seals foraged pelagically over very deep water where much variation was evident in diel vertical migration strategies. These strategies resulted in generally deeper and longer dives than what has been reported for male elephant seals from other colonies. No significant differences were recorded for dive durations or dive depths between adults and sub-adults. However, younger animals displayed a positive relationship between dive durations and age, as well as between dive depths and age, while these relationships became negative for older animals. Mixed model outputs suggested that seals increased their aerobic fitness as migrations progressed, enabling them to undertake longer dives. We conclude that Marion Island male elephant seals exhibit much variability in dive strategy and are seemingly capable of exploiting a range of different prey types occurring in various depth layers.

(Received February 27 2012)

(Accepted June 02 2012)

(Online publication August 03 2012)

Key words

  • dive behaviour;
  • marine mammals;
  • Prince Edward islands;
  • utilization distribution