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Southern sea lion research

Southern sea lion research

 sea_lion_1The Falklands population of southern sea lions (Otaria flavescens) has declined by an unprecedented 97% - from an estimated 80,000 pups in 1938 to just 2,000 pups in 1995.


Lets just run over that again - that is a staggering 97% decline in what was the largest southern sea lion population in the world!


Despite a halt to sealing in the 1960’s the population continued to decline into the mid 90s. While some sea lion colonies have since increased substantially, colonies at several sites remain stable or have even declined, prompting Dr Alastair Baylis (Falklands Conservation) and Dr Iain Staniland (British Antarctic Survey) to initiate the Darwin Southern Sea Lion Programme.


Project Officer: Dr Alastair Baylis


 


Darwin Initiative       projectaware       JNCCLogo


 In 2011, the project was supported by the DARWIN INITIATIVE , Project AWARE  and JNCC Small Research Grants

Posted by on in Sealions

In 1939 J.E Hamilton published his second report on Falklands’ southern sea lions. His reports are part of the Discovery Reports – the culmination of seminal multi-disciplinary research that involved a series of Antarctic cruises and land-based surveys between 1925 - 1951. Hamilton’s report contained a short note on the winter migration of southern sea lions. The note was based on his observations of the Cape Dolphin colony between 1935 – 1937. In summary, Hamilton suggested part of the Falkland Islands population may migrate away from the Islands during winter. His idea stuck. A quick internet search on southern sea lions reveals statements such as ‘the Falkland Islands are largely abandoned during the winter’, undoubtedly in reference to Hamilton’s salient work. However, while some females move to different haul out sites with their pups over winter and males disperse from breeding beaches, do sea lions really leave the Falklands entirely? A glance at Sealing on the Falkland Islands by local author J.R. Allen suggests that at least some sub-adult and adult males actually remain at the Falklands year round. A fact that I am sure many local land owners would also attest to.

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Posted by on in Sealions
juvenile_male_southern_sea_lion_otaria_flavescens_falkland_islands

The rain, sleet and snow held off just long enough for us to deploy satellite tags on four young males (60 - 120 kg) and two young females (60 kg). This is the first time juveniles have been tracked at the Falklands, so we follow their movements over winter with much anticipation! Maps of foraging routes to follow shortly.

The picture left shows a very young male, happily snoozing on a tussac bog. Can you see several light brown patches of fur? These brown patches are the remnants of his old fur - he has not quite finishing molting. Sea lions molt annually to replace old and worn out fur (generally between March - June for juveniles and adult females, with juveniles molting earlier than females).
 
Photo: Juvenile male southern sea lion, Falkland Islands (Alastair Baylis)
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Posted by on in Sealions
Southern_sea_lion_Otaria_flavescens_PTT_Falkland_Islands_Falklands_ConservationAdult female southern sea lion equipped with a satellite tag in the Falkland Islands (Andrew Stanworth)

 - Males can be up to 3 times larger than females, making the Southern sea lion the most sexually dimorphic of all sea lion species (Steller, New Zealand, Australian, Californian and Galapagos sea lion)

- Adult males weigh 350 kg, while females 80 - 170kg and reach over 2 meters in length.

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Posted by on in Sealions

Southern sea lions are top predators in our marine environment. That means that just like seabirds, sea lions play an important role in maintaining the health of our seas. It may come as a surprise, but southern sea lions are one of the least studied pinniped (seals, sea lions, walruses) despite their wide distribution (Chile, Falkland Islands, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina). Information gathered on this enigmatic and iconic animal is therefore important locally and globally.

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