1. Numerous studies have determined the foraging areas of marine apex predators and investigated their relationship to oceanographic features. Most of these, however, have concentrated on surface-feeding seabirds or epipelagic-foraging marine mammals and there is little information on habitat selection in benthic divers.
2. Satellite telemetry was used during the winters of 2001-2003 to determine the foraging areas of 48 female Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) from four breeding sites in northern Bass Strait whose colonies together represent > 80% of the total species population.
3. All individuals foraged over the shallow continental shelf of Bass Strait supporting earlier studies that suggested the species is an exclusively benthic forager. Individual females showed a high degree of foraging site-fidelity and several foraging 'hot spot' areas could be identified.
4. Analysis of habitat use indicated that individuals selected areas with depths of 60-80 m significantly more (λ = 0.216, P<0.001) than any other bathymetric class. There was also evidence for foraging areas being influenced by SST, with individuals selecting regions of 16.0-16.8 C SST (λ = 0.008, P<0.01), but not surface chlorophyll-a concentration (P> 0.05).
5. Temporal analysis of at-sea movements indicated, due to their primarily benthic foraging mode, the areas frequented by female Australian fur seals did not overlap substantially with areas targeted by commercial fisheries. An exception to this was in far eastern Bass Strait where the Otter Trawl component of the Commonwealth Trawl Sector is highly active over the continental shelf and encompasses the areas frequented by females from The Skerries colony.
Published Online: 12 Feb 2008
Field of Research
060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology)
Socio Economic Objective
960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments