Elephant seal census

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This week at Macquarie Island: 21 October 2011

In the early days of Macquarie Island, elephant seals were harvested for their oil, significantly reducing their numbers. From 1950 scientists began counting the number of elephant seals on the island. Between 1950 and 1985 the population declined by 50%, and it continues to decline by approx 1.3% per year. The reason for this is unknown but it may be linked to reductions in food availability.

Each year from mid-September to mid-November, thousands of female elephant seals return to the island to give birth in harems. The Tasmanian National Parks Rangers, assisted by station staff, count the numbers of females that return, with a census of designated sections of the coast on October 15.  Twelve people were out on that day counting. Fortunately, the weather was reasonably good. The count exceeded 10,000 females for the five sections counted. In each harem there was almost the same number of pups and a few bulls.

Elephant seal harems
Elephant seal harems on the west beach near station

(Photo: Trish Macdonald)

over 500 female seals on the beach
A closer view - over 500 female seals on the beach

(Photo: Trish Macdonald)

Females and pups
Females and pups

(Photo: Trish Macdonald)

Bull with female
Bull with female

(Photo: Trish Macdonald)

Pup and weaned seal
Pup and weaned seal

(Photo: Trish Macdonald)

There are over 200 seal in this harem!
There are over 200 seal in this harem!

(Photo: Trish Macdonald)

Harems on the station's east beach
Harems on the station's east beach

(Photo: Trish Macdonald)

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This page was last modified on 21 October 2011.