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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 38(1)

An evaluation of hot-iron branding as a permanent marking method for adult New Zealand sea lions, Phocarctos hookeri

I. S. Wilkinson A B , B. L. Chilvers A F , P. J. Duignan C D and P. A. Pistorius E

A Department of Conservation, Research and Development Group, P.O. Box 10420, Wellington 6143, New Zealand.
B Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Locked Bag 914, Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450, Australia.
C New Zealand Wildlife Health Centre, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand.
D Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM), University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 4N1, Canada.
E Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa.
F Corresponding author. Email: lchilvers@doc.govt.nz

Wildlife Research 38(1) 51-60 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR10077
Submitted: 7 May 2010  Accepted: 12 January 2011   Published: 15 March 2011


 
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Abstract

Context: Studies of the population and behavioural ecology of pinnipeds require the ability to identify individuals over periods ranging from a single season to an entire lifetime.

Aims: The aims of this research were to examine the efficacy of hot-iron branding as a permanent marking technique including the legibility of marks over time and comparing estimates of survival for animals marked with brands versus flipper tags.

Methods: Adult female New Zealand sea lions (n = 135) aged between 4 and 24 years of age were hot-iron branded with four-digit numbers during the austral summer of 2000.

Key results: Ten years on, 100% of animals still alive could be identified from these brands. Over the 10-year research period, it was observed that the skin of fully healed individual brands could, on occasion, become lacerated due to injuries received from shark bites and/or bites from other sea lions, removing or temporarily reducing the legibility of single characters of some brands. However, these animals were still identifiable when all digits were considered – and scars could become an identifying mark in their own right.

Key conclusions: Survival estimates derived from branded versus tagged-only individuals were similar, although the variance associated with tagged-only survival estimates was higher, giving less robust estimates. This is likely a result of higher resight probabilities observed for branded individuals. Resighting of tags requires a close approach with a high associated level of disturbance to both the marked animal and those associated with it, especially when considered over the lifetime of the animal, while brands can be read from a considerable distance with little or no disturbance.

Implications: Thus, hot-iron branding can be an effective method for permanently identifying sea lions that provides robust parameter estimates, causes low disturbance in the resighting process, and does not compromise survival.



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