Research Paper

Population dynamics of southern elephant seals: a synthesis of three decades of demographic research at Marion Island

Published in: African Journal of Marine Science
Volume 33, issue 3, 2011 , pages: 523–534
DOI: 10.2989/1814232X.2011.637357
Author(s): PA PistoriusDepartment of Zoology, South Africa, PJN de BruynDepartment of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, South Africa, MN BesterDepartment of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


Southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina numbers declined precipitously throughout most of their circumpolar distribution since the 1950s. A long-term intensive demographic programme was initiated in 1983 on the relatively small population of southern elephant seals at sub-Antarctic Marion Island in an attempt to identify causative mechanisms associated with this decline. Weaned pups have been tagged annually since 1983, and this has produced a large number of individuals of known identity. A regular resighting programme yielded a mark-recapture dataset that has been subjected to numerous survival-based models. This ongoing programme produced a substantial body of scientific literature on population growth patterns, vital rates (survival and fecundity) and population regulation in southern elephant seals, which are reviewed in this synthesis. We briefly describe the analytical framework common to much of the demographic research, highlight important conclusions concerning population regulation of elephant seals at Marion Island, and discuss priorities for future research.

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