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Australian fur seal pup population is shrinking

Long-term monitoring program effective in tracking seal populations over time



IMAGE: Fur seal pup. view more 

Credit: Phillip Island Nature Parks

A census of annual pup production by Australian fur seal populations revealed the first reduction since species-wide protection was implemented in 1975, according to a study published September 5 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Rebecca McIntosh of the Phillip Island Nature Parks in Victoria, Australia, and colleagues. The study also shows that the long-term monitoring program for the Australian fur seal has effectively tracked population trends over time.

In the marine environment, monitoring the abundance and population trends of a top predator can provide measures of ecosystem health and management success. Fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, are important upper trophic level predators that, in Australia, are a protected marine species facing specific challenges related to fisheries and aquaculture management, ecotourism, potential impacts on seabirds, and response planning for oil spills and other emergencies. For these reasons, it is important to obtain accurate information about their abundance and population changes. An ad-hoc monitoring program coordinated across multiple stakeholders conducted a range-wide census of live pups in the Austral summers of 2002, 2007 and 2013. In the new study, McIntosh and colleagues set out to assess whether the monitoring program for the Australian fur seal is achieving its goals of determining pup abundance and estimating population trends.

The findings reveal that monitoring of the Australian fur seal between the 1970s and 2013 has effectively recorded population changes. The census successfully tracked signs of population recovery up to 2007. In addition, the 2013 census identified the first pup population decline, estimated to be 4.2% per year since 2007, since species-wide protection was implemented. According to the authors, the study highlights the importance of regularly assessing long-term monitoring programs and provides valuable information on how to effectively design and improve these programs.

Roland Pick, of Phillip Island Nature Parks, notes: "As wildlife managers it is important for us to regularly review our monitoring programs to examine the reliability of the information we have collected, and also to identify enhancements which may assist in a greater understanding of any population changes detected. We are currently using drone technology and Citizen Science programs at Phillip Island Nature Parks to enhance our monitoring of Seal Rocks as the largest breeding colony for the species."


In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE:

Citation: McIntosh RR, Kirkman SP, Thalmann S, Sutherland DR, Mitchell A, Arnould JPY, et al. (2018) Understanding meta-population trends of the Australian fur seal, with insights for adaptive monitoring. PLoS ONE 13(9): e0200253.

Funding: The project was funded by Australian Marine Mammal Centre ( (Project number 12/27, RK), with contributions from Phillip Island Nature Parks (RM, DS, MS, PD), Deakin University (JA), Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (ST), Parks Victoria (staff and logistical support), and Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (AM). South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs, Branch Oceans and Coasts supported SK's time on the project. The Montague Island census was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project grant ( (LP110200603 to Rob Harcourt and DS). The South Australian data was provided by Simon Goldsworthy (South Australian Research and Development Institute - Aquatic Sciences) and Peter Shaughnessy (South Australian Museum), funded by AMMC. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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