Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology

The Diving Behavior of Adult Male and Female Southern Elephant Seals, Mirounga-Leonina (Pinnipedia, Phocidae)

MA Hindell, DJ Slip and HR Burton

Australian Journal of Zoology 39(5) 595 - 619
Published: 1991


Over 50 000 individual dive records collected by time-depth recorders were analysed with respect to sex of the seal, time of year and the approximate geographic location of the dive. Six distinct dive types were described on the basis of parameters such as the amount of time spent at the maximum depth of the dive, the rate of ascent and descent, and the general form of the dive profile. These dive types were 'rest' dives, 'travel' dives, 'surface' dives, 'general non-foraging' dives, 'pelagic foraging' dives and 'benthic foraging' dives. The seals spent 90% of their time at sea submerged. Less than 2% of the time was spent on the surface in intervals of more than 10 min. A further 20-30% of the time was spent on the various non-foraging types of dives. Most females performed only 'pelagic foraging' dives, while males performed both 'pelagic' and 'benthic foraging' dives. All the 'benthic foraging' dives occurred in Area 3 (defined by water-temperature data as lying over the Antarctic Continental Shelf) and were 400-500 m deep. 'Pelagic foraging' dives occurred in all three foraging areas and ranged in depth from 200 to 1100 m. These types of dives also exhibited marked diurnal variations in depth, unlike 'benthic foraging' dives. The seals spent 10-20 min at the bottom of each 'foraging' dive, where they generally displayed a series of small changes in depth (wiggles). The size of these 'wiggles' tended to be larger in 'pelagic foraging' dives than in 'benthic foraging' dives. The diving behaviour of southern elephant seals is related to the possible prey they exploit in the Southern Ocean.

© CSIRO 1991

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