Southern elephant seals roam the Southern Ocean. Several teams are tracking them using Argos beacons (Christophe Guinet from CNRS/CEBC, France, Clive McMahon for IMOS, Australia, Lars Boehm from UK, etc.), to better understand their behaviours, their environmental needs, and the changes in the behaviours that can come from changes in the environment.

The elephant seals moves display two main patterns. Some, generally the males, travel South to the Antarctic coast and spend the winter feeding near the coast and in the polynyas (ice-free areas in the middle of sea ice). The other main behaviour is for seals to remain a little further North, at the edge of the pack ice where they feed in open water on small fish and squids. This behaviour tends to be associated more with the female seals, all of which are gravid and need to return to the breeding islands e.g. Kerguelen Islands, in Spring (September) to have their pups. Because the mother seals do not feed during the breeding season they must bring all the food and nutrients they will need to feed and grow their pups with them from the Southern Ocean. They do this by being very efficient at turning their favourite food, fish and squid, into high energy fat that they convert to milk.

Elephant seal tracks overlaid on micronekton highly migrant, migrant and bathypelagic layers (Credits CEBC/CNRS for the elephant seals, CLS/MESOPP for micronekton data, Seapodym model)

 

Access Seapodym data on MESOPP

Reference:

Guinet C., VacquiƩ-Garcia J., Picard B., Bessigneul G., Lebras Y., Dragon A.C., Viviant M., Arnould J.P.Y., Bailleul F. (2014) Southern Elephant Seal foraging success in relation to temperature and light conditions: insight on their prey distribution. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 499:285-301.

Della Penna A., De Monte S., Guinet C., Kestenare E., D’Ovidio F., Quasi-planktonic behaviour of foraging top marine predators. Scientific Reports. 5:18063 | DOI: 10.1038/srep18063