Behavioral responses of Australian fur seals to boat approaches at a breeding colony

Back, Julia, Hoskins, Andrew J., Kirkwood, Roger and Arnould, John P. Y. 2018, Behavioral responses of Australian fur seals to boat approaches at a breeding colony, Nature conservation, vol. 31, pp. 35-52, doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.31.26263.

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Title Behavioral responses of Australian fur seals to boat approaches at a breeding colony
Author(s) Back, Julia
Hoskins, Andrew J.
Kirkwood, Roger
Arnould, John P. Y.ORCID iD for Arnould, John P. Y.
Journal name Nature conservation
Volume number 31
Start page 35
End page 52
Total pages 18
Publisher Pensoft Publishers
Place of publication Sufia, Bulgaria
Publication date 2018-12-18
ISSN 1314-6947
Keyword(s) Science & Technology
Life Sciences & Biomedicine
Biodiversity Conservation
Biodiversity & Conservation
Arctocephalus pusillus
tourism management
Summary Copyright Julia J. Back et al. In Australia, a multi-million-dollar industry is based on viewing the Australian fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus), predominantly through boat visits to breeding colonies. Regulation of boat approaches varies by site and no systematic investigations have been performed to inform management guidelines. To investigate possible effects of disturbance, experimental boat approaches were made to a colony at Kanowna Island in northern Bass Strait and seal responses were monitored using instantaneous scan sampling. Colony attendance (individuals remaining ashore) was found to be influenced by approach distance and time of day, but was not affected by environmental variables or season, whereas onshore resting behavior was influenced by approach distance, time of day, ambient temperature and wind direction. Onshore resting behavior decreased following experimental boat approaches to 75 m, but changes in abundance of individuals ashore were not observed at this distance. In contrast, approaches to 25 m elicited a strong response, with a steep decline in the number of individuals ashore. This response was strongest when approaches occurred in the morning, with a decline of approximately 47% of individuals, compared to a decline of 21% during afternoon approaches. With regard to onshore resting behavior, afternoon approaches to 75 m led to minimal response. The remaining three combinations of approach distance and time of day had a similar pattern of reductions in the proportion of individuals engaging in onshore resting behavior. The strongest response was again seen during approaches to 25 m conducted in the morning. These behavior changes suggest that unrestricted boat-based ecotourism at Australian fur seal colonies has the potential to increase energy expenditure and reduce the number of seals ashore. Increasing minimum approach distances to ≥75 m and/or restricting visits to afternoons may minimize these impacts at Kanowna Island during the post-molt and non-breeding seasons. As several studies have demonstrated considerable intra-species variation in seal responses to boat approaches, research at other colonies is needed before these findings can be generalized to the remainder of the Australian fur seal population.
Language eng
DOI 10.3897/natureconservation.31.26263
Field of Research 060201 Behavioural Ecology
060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology)
Socio Economic Objective 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences
HERDC Research category C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
ERA Research output type C Journal article
Copyright notice ©2018, Julia J. Back et al.
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