Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Temporal changes in the quality of hot-iron brands on elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) pups

John van den Hoff A C , Michael D. Sumner A , Iain C. Field A , Corey J. A. Bradshaw B , Harry R. Burton A and Clive R. McMahon A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Australian Antarctic Division, 203 Channel Highway, Kingston, Tas. 7050, Australia.

B Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, GPO Box 252-05, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: john_van@aad.gov.au

Wildlife Research 31(6) 619-629 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR03101
Submitted: 23 October 2003  Accepted: 1 July 2004   Published: 23 December 2004


Hot-iron brands were used to mark permanently 14 000 six-week-old southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina L.) pups at Macquarie Island between 1993 and 2000. We assessed temporal changes in the quality of 4932 brands applied in 1998 and 1999 to determine the duration of the brand wound, and the relationships between brand healing, brand readability and the amount of skin and hair damage peripheral to the brand characters. Most (98%) brand wounds were healed within one year. Brand-mark healing, peripheral skin damage and brand readability were significantly (P < 0.05) correlated. The proportion of healed and readable brands increased in the population during the first annual moult, and thereafter these proportions remained high (>95%) for the marked population. The mean number of brand characters with peripheral skin damage decreased significantly over the same period. The seal’s annual hair and skin moult is the process that contributed most to the healing of brand wounds. We also assessed our branding technique to determine whether any of the features we measured contributed to a poor-quality brand. Excessive pressure used during brand-iron application is the most probable cause of unsightly peripheral skin damage, but this damage is short lived.


We thank all the persons, Maria Clippindale in particular, who contributed to data collection. Dr C. Bradshaw was supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowships. Dr M. Hindell and J. Harrington provided helpful comments on the manuscript. All the research procedures used in this study were first approved by the Antarctic Animal Care and Ionising Radiation Usage Ethics Committee, Department of the Environment, Commonwealth of Australia and the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service (Permit numbers FA98171–FA98176).


Anon.  (1998). Live animal capture and handling guidelines for wild mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. (Eds M. McAdie, L. Westereng, and J. Quayle.) pp. 1–47. (British Columbia, Resources Inventory Committee.)

Ashwell-Erickson, S. , Fay, F. H. , and Elsner, R. (1986). Metabolic and hormonal correlates of molting and regeneration of pelage in Alaskan harbor and spotted seals (Phoca vitulina and Phoca larga). Canadian Journal of Zoology 64, 1086–1094.

Bradshaw, C. J. A. , Barker, R. J. , and Davis, L. S. (2000). Modeling tag loss in New Zealand fur seal pups. Journal of Agricultural Biological & Environmental Statistics 5, 124–134.

Broderick, A. C. , and Godley, B. J. (1999). Effect of tagging marine turtles on nesting behaviour and reproductive success. Animal Behaviour 58, 587–591.
CrossRef |

Carrick, R. , and Ingham, S. E. (1960). Ecological studies of the southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina (L.), at Macquarie Island and at Heard Island. Mammalia 24, 325–342.

Carrick, R. , Csordas, S. E. , Ingham, S. E. , and Keith, K. (1962). Studies on the southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina (L.). III. The annual cycle in relation to age and sex. Wildlife Research 7, 119–160.

Caughley G. (1977). ‘Analysis of Vertebrate Populations.’ (John Wiley and Sons: London.)

Chittleborough R. G., and Ealey E. H. M. (1951). Seal marking at Heard Island, 1949. ANARE Interim Report No. 1. (Ed. P. G. Law.) Department of External Affairs, Antarctic Division, Melbourne.

Csordas, S. (1995). An account of Australian seal marking studies in the Southern Ocean. Aurora September, 4–8.

Eberhardt, L. L. , Chapman, D. G. , and Gilbert, J. R. (1979). A review of marine mammal census methods. Wildlife Monographs 63, 1–46.

Engelhard, G. H. , van den Hoff, J. , Broekman, M. , Baarspul, A. N. J. , Field, I. , Burton, H. R. , and Reijnders, P. J. H. (2001). Mass of weaned elephant seal pups in areas of low and high human presence. Polar Biology 24, 244–251.
CrossRef |

Erickson A. W., Bester M., and Laws R. M. (1993). Marking techniques. In ‘Antarctic Seals: Research Methods and Techniques’. (Ed. R. M. Laws.) pp 89–115. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

Field, I. C. , Bradshaw, C. J. A. , McMahon, C. R. , Harrington, J. , and Burton, H. R. (2002). Effects of age, size and condition of elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) on their intravenous anaesthesia with tiletamine and zolazepam. Veterinary Record 151, 235–240.

Fowler J., Cohan L., and Jarvis P. (2000). How good are our estimates? In ‘Practical Statistics for Field Biology’. 2nd edn. pp 90–103. (John Wiley and Sons: New York.)

Gales N. (2001). A field review of the Macquarie Island elephant seal hot branding programme. Department of Conservation and Land Management, Perth. 27 pp.

Galimberti, F. , Sanvito, S. , and Boitani, L. (2000). Marking of southern elephant seals with passive integrated transponders. Marine Mammal Science 16, 500–504.

Gentry R. L., and Holt J. R. (1982). Equipment and techniques for handling northern fur seals. NOAA Technical Report. NMFS SSRF-758.

Heath, R. B. , Calkins, D. G. , McAllister, D. , Taylor, W. , and Spraker, T. (1996). Telazol and isoflurane field anesthesia in free-ranging Steller’s sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 27, 35–43.

Hindell, M. A. , and Burton, H. R. (1988). Seasonal haul-out patterns of the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina L.), at Macquarie Island. Journal of Mammalogy 69, 81–88.

Hindell, M. A. , and Little, G. J. (1988). Longevity, fertility and philopatry of two female southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) at Macquarie Island. Marine Mammal Science 4, 168–171.

Krebs C. J. (1989). ‘Ecological Methodology.’ (Harper Collins Publishers: New York.)

Ling J. K. (1965). Hair growth and moulting in the southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina (Linn.). In ‘Biology of the Skin and Hair Growth’. (Eds A. G. Lyne and B. F. Short.) pp. 524–544. (Angus and Robertson: Sydney.)

McGilvray, G. (2000). Seal uproar: big questions arise. Australian Veterinary Journal 78, 299.

McMahon C. R., van den Hoff J., Burton H. R., and Davis P. D. (1997). Evidence for precocious development in female pups of the southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina, at Macquarie Island. In ‘Marine Mammal Research in the Southern Hemisphere. Volume 1: Status, Ecology and Medicine’. (Eds M. Hindell and C. Kemper.) pp. 92–96. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

McMahon, C. R. , Burton, H. R. , and Bester, M. N. (2000). Weaning mass and the future survival of juvenile southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina, at Macquarie Island. Antarctic Science 12, 149–153.

Merrick R. L., Loughlin T. R., and Calkins D. G. (1996). Hot branding: a technique for long-term marking of pinnipeds. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-68.

Scheffer V. B. (1950). Experiments in the marking of seals and sea lions. U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service Special Scientific Reports No. 4. Washington, DC.

Troy S., Middleton D., and Phelan J. (1997). On capture, anaesthesia and branding of adult male New Zealand fur seals Arctocephalus forsteri. In ‘Marine Mammal Research in the Southern Hemisphere. Volume 1: Status, Ecology and Medicine’. (Eds M. Hindell and C. Kemper.) pp. 179–183. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Wilkinson I. S., Padraig D., and Childerhouse S. (2001). An evaluation of hot-iron branding as a permanent marking method in the New Zealand sea lion, Phocarctos hookeri. In ‘14th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Vancouver, Canada, November 28–December 3’. (Society for Marine Mammals.)

Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (17)