Neighbouring seals forage in different places despite similarity of available habitat

Subantarctic fur seal female at sea off Marion Island. Photo: Nico de Bruyn

Subantarctic fur seal female at sea off Marion Island. Photo: Nico de Bruyn

A new paper published in BMC Ecology by MIMMP collaborator Dr Mia Wege and colleagues shows that there is no difference in predicted potential and available foraging habitat for neighbouring colonies of Marion Island fur seals and yet these animals from different colonies actually do forage in segregated areas at sea.

Figure 1: A theoretical representation of geographical structuring. The black dots represent the colony locations and the coloured blobs the home-ranges of individuals travelling from the respective colonies.

Figure 1: A theoretical representation of geographical structuring. The black dots represent the colony locations and the coloured blobs the home-ranges of individuals travelling from the respective colonies.

Several species of central-place foragers, such as seabirds, penguins and seals, have colony-specific foraging areas and forage in different areas at sea compared to conspecifics from neighbouring colonies. Individuals from neighbouring colonies even segregate from each other spatially when they are situated well within each other’s foraging range. This is known as habitat structuring and is the concept shown in Figure 1, where the black dots represent the locations of the colonies, and the coloured blobs are the foraging ranges of individuals from the different colonies.

Figure 2: At-sea locations of 121 female Subantarctic and Antarctic fur seals from Marion Island, 2009-2015 during a) summer and b) winter. The different coloured dots represent the three different colonies.

Figure 2: At-sea locations of 121 female Subantarctic and Antarctic fur seals from Marion Island, 2009-2015 during a) summer and b) winter. The different coloured dots represent the three different colonies.

So why would individuals from one colony rather swim or fly further away from their respective colony than forage in the same area as their neighbours? Currently there are several hypotheses for this, ranging from the costs associated of travel, competitive exclusion by neighbours and even different preferences to environmental drivers by neighbouring colonies used to navigate and find prey resources.

Marine predator foraging movements are, among others, driven by bottom-up oceanographic processes such as sea-surface temperature. If this small-scale segregation by neighbouring colonies of marine central-place foragers are indeed driven by differential preferences or exposure to environmental conditions, then we would expect segregated foraging areas to have different habitat characteristics.

Six-years of tracking data (2009-2015) from one Antarctic and two Subantarctic fur seal colonies at Marion Island showed that different colonies situated around the coastline of the island forage in segregated areas at sea, irrespective of species (Figure 2).  Using these two fur seal species as models, we investigated how the habitat characteristics of segregated foraging areas differ between the colonies across seasons. We used remotely sensed environmental variables and tracking data of known foraging locations using machine learning boosted regression trees to model key environmental variables associated with areas of fur seal restricted search behaviour (a proxy for foraging).

We found no differences in the relative influence of key environmental variables to fur seal female foraging habitat between colonies and seasons. Furthermore, the model predicted that the potential foraging areas of females from the three colonies should overlap, and the fact they do not in reality indicates that factors other than environmental are influencing the location of each colony’s foraging area. Small-scale spatial segregation between neighbouring colonies are therefore not dictated by bottom-up processes.

Link to the paper in BMC Ecology by clicking here.

Passing of a previous sealer: Azwinndini Justice Ramunasi

Justice on Marion Island in 2005. Photo: Nico de Bruyn

Justice on Marion Island in 2005. Photo: Nico de Bruyn

We regret to share the sad news of the passing of Mr Azwinndini Justice Ramunasi. He was a Marion Island overwintering “SEALER” in 2004/05 as part of the Marion 61st team, and his Sealer number is 51. At the time of his passing he was attached to the Department of Zoology in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, University of Venda, as a lecturer.

Justice graduated from the University of Pretoria, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, with an MSc Zoology degree focused on the diet of Marion Island fur seals, in 2010.

Mr Azwinndini Justice Ramunasi passed away on Thursday, 29 August 2019.

On behalf of the MIMMP, we extend our deepest sympathy to the Ramunasi family, relatives and friends.

Naomi Mathew (visiting USA graduate): assessing what killer whales do at night


Naomi Mathew is a graduate student in the Master of Professional Science program at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, focusing on Marine Mammal Science.

The MIMMP is proudly hosting Naomi for her 3-month stay in Pretoria, where she is collaborating with Professor P.J. Nico de Bruyn and Mr. Peter Retief to understand what the Marion Island killer whales get up to at night.

Using Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) footage of the Marion Island killer whales, Naomi’s research aims to develop a killer whale image recognition algorithm. This will ultimately aid in answering questions regarding the nocturnal behaviour of Marion Island’s killer whales, which has largely remained a mystery.

We look forward to some exciting results!

New paper shows how breeding costs vary between females

A new paper published online early in the journal Population Ecology by MIMMP postdoc Chris Oosthuizen and colleagues shows that breeding for the first time is costly, but only for “low quality” individuals.

Elephant seal females do not feed at all during lactation, and may lose 30 % of their body mass in a breeding season. Energy resources are more limiting for young breeding females because of their smaller body size and lower blubber reserves relative to older females. Young female elephant seals also reproduce before completing body growth, constraining the energy available for somatic maintenance and growth. Young first-time breeders may therefore be expected to have lower survival and subsequent breeding probabilities than those delaying reproduction to an older age.

Alternatively, the individual quality hypothesis predicts that high-quality individuals should reproduce at an early age, survive better, and have a greater probability of breeding in subsequent years. In this case, recruitment age is an indicator of “individual quality” – phenotypic or genetic characteristics that improves fitness.

We used statistical models to partition the life trajectories of female elephant seals into two classes which represent individuals with different breeding and survival probabilities. This analysis enabled us to show that individual differences (“individual quality”) governs the expression of trade-offs with first reproduction in elephant seals, with an immediate survival cost of first reproduction present among “low quality” individuals only. Our finding that individuals that recruit earlier in life survive and reproduce better than delayed breeders supports the hypothesis that recruitment age is an indicator of “individual quality”.

Click here to access the paper!

Marthán Bester wins Gold Medal of the ZSSA

Prof Marthan Bester sharing his thoughts and thanks during his Gold Medal award acceptance speech.

Prof Marthan Bester sharing his thoughts and thanks during his Gold Medal award acceptance speech.

Prof Marthan Bester (2nd from the left) was awarded the ZSSA Gold Medal for his outstanding achievements in Zoology.

Prof Marthan Bester (2nd from the left) was awarded the ZSSA Gold Medal for his outstanding achievements in Zoology.

The MIMMP is delighted to share the news that our ‘founder’, Emeritus Professor Marthan Bester, was awarded the distinguished Gold Medal of the Zoological Society of Southern Africa at the 39th ZSSA Congress held in Skukuza, Kruger National Park!

­The Gold Medal award is presented biennially by the ZSSA Council for outstanding achievements in Zoology in Southern Africa over a number of years.

Award Citation:

“Marthán Nieuwoudt Bester has been instrumental in the continuing presence of scientific researchers in the South African Subantarctic. Marthán’s lifelong dedication to marine mammal conservation and research in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica is evidenced in his impressive publication record, supervision of students, capacity building of conservationists, field workers, students and colleagues.

His diplomacy in policy and management, alongside scientific excellence has resulted in continuation of long-term research programmes through turbulent times in South Africa’s history. He has promoted Antarctic awareness and research not only to his students and colleagues, but to thousands of undergraduates, schoolchildren and the public through publications, lectures and radio/ television appearances.

Marthán’s early work (1970’s) on morphology, biology and ecology of Subantarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis, remains fundamental work to date. He completed his DSc at the University of Pretoria (UP) in 1978. At UP (associated with Department of Transport - later Environmental Affairs) he became a Biologist undertaking 6-13 month expeditions to Gough and Marion islands (1974-1978), and Kerguelen and Marion Islands (1979-1982). He accompanied multinational expeditions to Southern Ocean islands (e.g. Heard, King George, Amsterdam islands) and Antarctica as researcher, and facilitated student involvement in international research expeditions to Bouvetoya, Macquarie Island and Antarctica. Between 1982-1996 he became Antarctic Research Officer (Mammals) to the Department of Environmental Affairs. During the period 1997–2002 he was promoted from Lecturer to Full Professor (2002–present) at UP. He has supervised 38 MSc, 13 PhD’s, 10 Postdoctoral fellowships to completion; with 3 MSc in progress, and continues to collaborate with leading academics from every continent (despite being retired).

His foremost scientific legacy: He conceived, initiated, maintained and managed (uninterrupted from 1983-2013) the intensive Marion Island southern elephant seal mark-recapture research endeavour. This programme stands as one of the longest running and most important large mammal datasets in existence globally and the foremost of its kind for the species. His research activities have led to the generation of >223 peer reviewed publications, as well as numerous (>100) technical reports, policy documents, book chapters, protocols and other literature authored and co-authored by MNB. His H-factor is 30: ISI Web of Science (31 July 2018), and his work has been cited >3000 times. Thomson Reuters ISI Essential Science Indicator 2013: MNB was listed in top 1% of researchers globally for Animal and Plant Sciences. He has been awarded five Outstanding Academic Achiever awards by UP and an honorary award for the feral cat eradication effort on Marion Island, by the DST Centre of Excellent for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University. His further recognition includes, amongst others being scientific advisor to RSA government sub-directorate on Antarctica and Islands, and a member of various national management and advisory groups and committees related to Antarctica and Prince Edward Islands (1984-2016). He served as a full member of SCAR (Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research) Group of Specialists on Seals (GSS) (1984-2002); a founding member of the Antarctic Pack Ice Seals (APIS) steering committee of SCAR (1994-2002); Secretary of GSS and then revamped Expert Group on Seals (EGS) of SCAR (2000-2006); chair of the EGS (2006-2008), and is currently an Honorary conservation officer for the Government of Tristan da Cunha. He serves on editorial boards of Marine Ecology Progress Series, Polar Biology, and African Journal of Wildlife Research; has reviewed for ~50 internationally accredited journals, and has served as external evaluator on >70 dissertations/ theses, and grant - and peer review panels.

In addition to his achievements in the field of marine mammalogy, he led the programme which successfully eradicated feral cats from Marion Island. This work involved a commitment which lasted two decades (1972-1992), was (and remains) the largest successful island eradication of feral cats in history and has resulted in the recovery of the avian biodiversity on the island. He enabled >120 South African field assistants/students from a variety of cultural backgrounds to spend expedition years at Marion Island. As a consequence of their expedition research and experience gained, most of these “Sealers” have completed postgraduate degrees, and hold influential positions in research and conservation both nationally and internationally. His achievements are not only a result of his tremendous foresight, but also of dedication and a remarkable capacity for hard work. He is an excellent ambassador for Antarctic research, influential marine mammal scientist and a role model for many. Marthán’s mentoring success has been enhanced by his ability to encourage students and colleagues to look beyond his areas of expertise and he has facilitated this development by providing contacts with his wide global network of colleagues. He has always demonstrated great humility in the high profile world of marine mammal research and is not afraid to admit he does not know everything, and will assist colleagues and students alike to seek answers to their questions. He derives great pleasure in his students advancing their knowledge beyond his own, and provides every opportunity for them to do so. This is a critical attribute in encouraging a new generation of scientists who will look beyond current paradigms.”

Rowan Jordaan, past killer whaler/sealer and current MIMMP PhD student visits the CEBC in France


Rowan Jordaan (MIMMP PhD student) has just started his 2 month visit to the Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé (CEBC) (i.e. Chizé Centre for Biological Sciences) laboratory in Villiers en Bois, France. The CEBC is part of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) which is largest governmental research organisation in France and the largest fundamental science agency in Europe. The CEBC is globally recognized as a nexus for Southern Ocean top predator ecological research.

During his visit, Rowan will be working with his co-supervisor, MIMMP collaborator and past student, Dr. Ryan Reisinger who is completing a post-doc at the CEBC. With the help of Ryan and his colleagues, Rowan aims to further his research on the demography and sociality of Marion Island’s killer whales. This research will investigate the relationship between demography and social structure and the potential drivers behind these changes.

Rowan’s visit will strengthen an existing Southern Ocean killer whale collaboration between South African, French and Australian researchers (including a Southern Oceans Research Partnership project led by the MIMMPS Principle Investigator, Prof. Nico de Bruyn). We look forward to seeing results from this exciting project!

Global review of seal entanglement published!

A young Antarctic fur seal entangled in fishing net at remote Bouvetoya in the Southern Ocean. Photo: Nico de Bruyn

A young Antarctic fur seal entangled in fishing net at remote Bouvetoya in the Southern Ocean. Photo: Nico de Bruyn

Oceanic plastic pollution is a growing worldwide environmental concern, endangering numerous marine species. Pinnipeds (seals) are particularly susceptible to entanglement, especially in abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear and packaging straps. In this review published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, Emma Jepsen and Nico de Bruyn compiled a comprehensive global review of all pinniped entanglements reported in published literature over the last 40 years.

The majority of published records of entanglement emanate from North America and Oceania and are focused on a few populous species (notably, California sea lions and Antarctic fur seals). Reporting bias, skewed research effort and incomplete understanding of plastic pollution and pinniped abundance overlap, combine to cloud our understanding of the entanglement problem. Broader geographical effort in entanglement data collection, reporting of such data, and improved quantification of the proportions of populations, sexes and ages that are most susceptible, will aid our efforts to pinpoint priority mitigation measures. Click here to read the full article.

Prof Nico de Bruyn, MIMMP's team leader and Principal Investigator nominated as a finalist in the NSTF awards


On behalf of the MIMMP we would like to congratulate Prof Nico de Bruyn as a finalist in the NSTF-South32 Awards (The National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)). Prof de Bruyn is team leader and Principal Investigator for the Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme.

He has been nominated in the following catergory:

Innovation Awards: Corporate Organisation-for innovations and their research and/or development (by a team or an individual over the last 5 to 10 years).

We are holding thumbs for you Prof de Bruyn!

To read more about the finalists and awards please visit the NSTF website:

Prof de Bruyn on Marion Island.

Prof de Bruyn on Marion Island.

New MIMMP Short Note published in Polar Biology!

Anomalous lanugo coat in a sub-Antarctic fur seal ( Arctocephalus tropicalis ) pup (photographed next to a normal black pup) born at Cape Davis Sealers Beach on Marion Island during the austral summer of 2015/2016.  Photo credit: M. Mole

Anomalous lanugo coat in a sub-Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) pup (photographed next to a normal black pup) born at Cape Davis Sealers Beach on Marion Island during the austral summer of 2015/2016.

Photo credit: M. Mole

Latest publication from MIMMP. This opportunistic study identified for the first time uncharacteristic lanugo coat colourations in sub-Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) pups born on Marion Island. 

Instead of having normal black fur, a number of sub-Antarctic fur seal pups with lightly tanned fur coats were observed and recorded on the island between 2008-2018. 

Click here to access this paper!

New paper in TREE: Translating Marine Animal Tracking into Policy

Nico de Bruyn, Principal Investigator of the MIMMP, has been involved in an exciting paper that has just been published online in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. The review lead by Graeme Hays, Deakin University (Australia), and with contributions from a group of international colleagues evaluates how well marine animal tracking data has been translated into policy and conservation.

There have been efforts around the globe to track individuals of many marine species and assess their movements and distribution, with the putative goal of supporting their conservation and management. Determining whether, and how, tracking data have been successfully applied to address real-world conservation issues is, however, difficult. Here, the authors compile a broad range of case studies from diverse marine taxa to show how tracking data have helped inform conservation policy and management, including reductions in fisheries bycatch and vessel strikes, and the design and administration of marine protected areas and important habitats. Using these examples, we highlight pathways through which the past and future investment in collecting animal tracking data might be better used to achieve tangible conservation benefits.

Click here to access the paper!

Marthán Bester on RRS Discovery expedition to Tristan da Cunha Islands

The RRS Discovery in port. Photo: Marthan Bester

The RRS Discovery in port. Photo: Marthan Bester

Currently, Marthán Bester is participating in the UK Overseas Territories ‘Blue Belt’ programme at the Tristan da Cunha Islands (TdC) ( with the blessing of the TdC Government. The top predator (especially Subantarctic fur seal) research that is envisaged will feed comparative information into MIMMP. To this end he travelled to the UK on 04 March, visited our colleagues at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge for a day, and slotted in with the BAS arrangements to get their, and other personnel from CEFAS and RSPB, to the Falkland Islands by RAF airbridge. This entailed a 15 hour (5 + 10) flight from the Royal Airforce Base at Brize Norton, using a seated Airtanker A330 (with a brief re-fuelling stop at the Cape Verde Islands), to Mount Pleasant RAF airfield outside of Port Stanley, East Falkland Islands.

After a very pleasant four days in Port Stanley, they boarded the RRS Discovery, an oceanographic research vessel, on 11 March, due to sail for the Tristan da Cunha Islands today, 12 March. After 9 days of sailing to the TdC, Marthán and three others will be landed on the main island of TdC for their particular purposes. The ship then goes off on a 10-day oceanographic survey of the seamounts around Gough Island to the south, before returning to TdC.

On TdC Marthán will be assisted in the field (Seal Bay) by the TdC Conservation Department, deploying satellite-linked dataloggers on lactating fur seal females, and servicing our automated fur seal attendance pattern logging system that was put up in September 2018. After 10 days of surveying, the 4 pax and some passengers will be retrieved from TdC, and the expedition ends in James Town, St Helena some days later. Marthán will be returning to South Africa soon after. Watch this space for a narrative about the unfolding of this expedition!

Kyle Lloyd's lab visit to Montana State University starts


Kyle Lloyd (MIMMP PhD student) has started his 3 month visit to Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, USA. Kyle will be collaborating with Prof. Jay Rotella and colleagues of the Ecology Department to further his research on the population ecology of male southern elephant seals. The topics of his research will focus on environmental drives of pre-breeder vital rates and factors influencing senescence patterns in breeders. Kyle hopes to develop his skills in population modelling and to strengthen the MIMMP's budding relationship with MSU. Despite being cold and snowy at the moment, Bozeman offers a breathtaking environment to stimulate the Sealer's mind.

Read more about our colleagues fantastic work in Antarctica:

New paper on making the most of mark-recapture survey data

Chris SES E-E paper.png

A novel approach to dealing with complex capture-mark-recapture data has been published in the journal Ecology & Evolution, by MIMMP postdoc, Chris Oosthuizen, and colleagues.

In life‐history analysis, the best solution to deal with unobservable states is to eliminate them altogether. In this paper, the authors achieve this objective by fitting novel multievent‐robust design models which combines robust design capture data collected during discrete breeding seasons with observations made at other times of the year. They use this approach to estimate breeding probabilities of female elephant seals. This flexible modeling approach can easily be adapted to suit sampling designs from numerous species which may be encountered during and outside of discrete breeding seasons. To read the full paper click here.

Marthan Bester: new FELLOW of the Royal Society of South Africa!!

Prof Marthan Bester pleased with another successful tracking device deployment on a southern elephant seal bull at Gough Island in 2015. Photo: Nico de Bruyn

Prof Marthan Bester pleased with another successful tracking device deployment on a southern elephant seal bull at Gough Island in 2015. Photo: Nico de Bruyn

Retired Emeritus Professor Marthan Bester, the initiator of the MIMMP and it’s Principal Investigator for three decades, will join the illustrious ranks of Fellowship of the Royal Society of South Africa during 2019.

This fantastic accolade is bestowed for his lifetime of dedicated research and conservation efforts related to Subantarctic and Antarctic marine mammals, and particularly seals. Furthermore, his central role in the worlds largest successful island eradication of feral cats is regarded as a conservation success story the world over. His achievements are too numerous to recite, but importantly, he has achieved all this while being a generous mentor to hundreds of students, field personnel and colleagues. For more stories about the incredible legacy of the MIMMP and history of the cat eradication efforts, consider buying our popular legacy book “Pain forms the Character”.

A young Marthan Bester traversing the snowy mountains of Marion Island in the 1970’s. Photo: Grant Craig

A young Marthan Bester traversing the snowy mountains of Marion Island in the 1970’s. Photo: Grant Craig

Stories from the Antarctic Peninsula

A view from Harmony Point over to Robert Island in the background (Chris Oosthuizen)

A view from Harmony Point over to Robert Island in the background (Chris Oosthuizen)

William and Lucas with some chinstrap penguins

William and Lucas with some chinstrap penguins

“This could be Scott’s hut”, I thought, as I stepped through the door and into the kitchen. Pine food boxes filled the wall to the left, and contained tinned butter, mold-speckled and rusted cans of fish, and gold-with-brown rust-encrusted paraffin food tins. It was dark inside, and damp as if in a cave, as wooden planks were hammered into the outside wall to cover and protect the single window from the elements. Were you able to look through that window, you would have seen the blue ice of the glacier beyond the small cove. Outside it was light, although shortly after 01:00 AM. It was going to be a long morning of shifting gear from the landing beach to the hut. But after the drama of the previous day we were euphoric to be here, even if it meant being deserted at midnight alone on this Antarctic island. 

Our journey here had started with delayed flights and two missed connections, and long airport hours. We arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile, on 23 November and 18 hours later stepped aboard “Achilles”, a frigate of the Chilean Navy. There were six of us: Team Harmony Point (Nelson Island) (Chris [South Africa], William [France] and Lucas [Brazil]) and Team Kopaitic (O’Higgens base) (Audun [Norway], Newi [South Africa] and Magdalena [Chile]. Andy [England/Australia] and Heidi [Finland] had already arrived at Deception Island, having left Ushuaia with a 5-star Hurtigruter tourist ship a few days earlier. Our board were of the 1-star variety one associates with army rations. Breakfast was sweet tea and a type of bread-roll, which also featured during afternoon tea. Lunch and dinner was a cooked meal consisting of (s)mash potato (often), rice or pasta, and some form of gravy, a small piece of meat, or a single vienna. 

Together, our three teams make up the predator tracking side of “krilltokt”, the Norwegian Polar Institute study to krill, krill-fisheries and ecosystem responses in the Bransfield Strait, West Antarctic Peninsula. Also on the Achilles were scientists from INACh (Instituto Antarctica Chileno) and quite a number of tourists. The tourists never ate with us, and I assume they had a different cook. We departed Punta Arenas 15:00 on 24 November and sailed south through the channels and fjords that lead to the open ocean. The hills and mountains that bound the narrow straits were covered by lush forest, and waterfalls drained the slopes. We passed the Darwin mountains – I am told – and several glaciers. It was a spectacular passage. We were exited to see that night, only to enter the waterways again and to sail in the Beagle Channel past Ushuaia to Puerto Williams, where we docked and went ashore for some hours. We were supposed to leave that night again, but were delayed by stormy weather in the Drake Passage….

We woke at 01:00 AM on 29 November and were ready to go to the island at 02:30 when the zodiac and barge were put to sea. We waved our goodbyes and off we went, like conquering Vikings, splashing into the waves, and speeding to the shore. The barge is called a SKUA, but looked a little like the boats used at Normandy during the Second World War. Fortunately, we had no enemy force shooting at us; instead, Pintado petrels swooped along with us and glided above and ahead without flapping a wing. The fog was thick over the island, which looked inhospitable and cold with snow covering most of the ground. We turned close to the shore and returned to the barge, to tell them where to land. They had engine trouble, with only one of the engines working. We circled them like a vulture waiting for an animal to die. Then we tried to push to barge to shore with our zodiac. We proceeded some distance, but finally the Armada – the Chilean navy – decided to abort the attempt. We were so close.
Communication was difficult – Spanish and English. It took us some 30 minutes to get the barge back to the waiting ship. Our driver thought that the best way to turn the barge was to ram it. At one point we were nearly sunk by the barge as we carelessly drifted in front of it. We were back on the ship, somewhat shell-shocked that we had come so close to being landed but then our attempt was thwarted by an engine, not an uncontrollable variable like weather. The ship lifted anchor and immediately sailed for Fildes Station on King George Island. 

We successfully landed on the night of 30 November / 1 December, now nearly two weeks ago. We have settled in, and during a couple of good weather days deployed some 30 tags on penguins, and a camera.
We are currently inhabiting the old Argentinean hut, but will set our tents as soon as we get a decent weather break that does not require immediate work. Though cold and run down (the hut’s door fell off the hinges earlier today, but we have repaired it (like biologists, not engineers)) it has been a great comfort during this first weeks.
Regards from Harmony Point,

An image from a chinstrap penguin equipped with an underwater camera.

An image from a chinstrap penguin equipped with an underwater camera.

MIMMP contributing to krill fishing/predator study in Antarctica


This summer, MIMMP postdoctoral fellow Chris Oosthuizen is partaking in a multinational expedition in the West Antarctic Peninsula which aims to uncover predator-prey relationships that can be used in feedback management of the krill fishery in this region of the Southern Ocean. The invitation to participate in the expedition arises from the MIMMP’s current collaboration with Dr Andrew Lowther of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) within the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) framework. The Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) and Chilean navy support this cooperation by providing logistical support to the expedition.

The large, multidisciplinary expedition in the Bransfield Strait spans most of the short Antarctic summer, from November 2018 to end February 2019. Using miniaturized telemetry devices, teams located on three different islands within the Bransfield Strait will study the foraging behavior of krill-dependent predators. Concurrently, the spatial distribution and abundance of the krill prey field will be obtained through ship-based acoustic monitoring. By combining predator foraging behaviour data and acoustic monitoring data, the spatio-temporal overlap between at-sea habitat use of penguins and fur seals and krill fishing effort can be estimated. The data on predator foraging behaviour collected during this (and past) field season(s) will assist in the development of spatially and temporally relevant feedback strategies for long-term management of the krill fishery, including the planning process for Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s).

Chinstrap penguin (Chris Oosthuizen)

Chinstrap penguin (Chris Oosthuizen)

Chris (MIMMP, South Africa) will be based at Harmony Point on Nelson Island for the duration of the expedition, along with William Jouanneau (France) and Lucas Kruger (INACH, Chile).  Nelson Island is part of the South Shetland Islands, and an Antarctic Specially Protected Area. Though most of Nelson Island is covered by glaciers, Harmony Point is ice-free and supports breeding colonies of 12 seabird species, among which one of the largest single colonies of chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica) in Antarctica. Large giant petrel (Macronectes gianteus) and gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) colonies also occur here. Seals do not breed here, but often haul out to rest. Harmony Point is botanically interesting too, as moss carpets, as well as lichens, fungi and two species of vascular plants, occur here. There is no field station Nelson Island and thus the team will camp for the duration of the expedition.  

South Africa is further represented on this expedition by Dr Azwianewi Makhado from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), who was a MIMMP sealer on Marion Island in 1999/2000. Together with Audun Narvestad (NPI, Norway) and Magdalena Huerta (INACH, Chile), Dr Newi Makhado will be camping on Kopaitic Island near the Bernardo O’Higgens Base (Chile) on the Antarctic Peninsula. The final team, comprising Dr Andrew Lowther (NPI, Norway) and Dr Heidi Ahonen (NPI, Norway) set up camp at Deception Island on 23 November.

The Harmony Point and Kopaitic Island teams sailed from Punta Arenas (Chile) on 24 November aboard the Frigate Achilles. They arrived at the South Shetland Islands on 29 November having navigated the Beagle Channel and Drake Passage on the way.

More updates coming soon!

Chris Oosthuizen wins British Ecological Society 2018 photo competition!

“ Stand out from the crowd ” by Chris Oosthuizen. Overall winner of the 2018 BES photographic competition.

Stand out from the crowd” by Chris Oosthuizen. Overall winner of the 2018 BES photographic competition.

MIMMP postdoc, Dr. Chris Oosthuizen, has been announced as the overall winner of the British Ecological Society Annual Photography Competition 2018, for his image “Stand out from the crowd”!!

“ Stinkpot special: Penguin a la King ” by Chris Oosthuizen, winner of the Dynamic Ecosystems category within the BES 2018 photographic competition.

Stinkpot special: Penguin a la King” by Chris Oosthuizen, winner of the Dynamic Ecosystems category within the BES 2018 photographic competition.

As if that is not wonderful enough, he also topped the “Dynamic Ecosystems” category with a winning shot entitled “Stinkpot special: Penguin a la King”, showing a Giant petrel preying on a king penguin chick at Marion Island.

For further interesting details behind these remarkable photos read this article.

To view all winning images visit the British Ecological Society website.

Blond pups and population recovery in Antarctic fur seals

A. gazella

A. gazella

Evaluating how populations are connected by migration is important for understanding species resilience in changing environments. Gene flow can help recovery from demographic declines, sometimes quite dramatically as in the case of Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella). In a study now published in Royal Society Open Science an international team (including the MIMMP) investigated the extent to which migration may have contributed to the global recovery of this circumpolar distributed marine mammal that was brought to the brink of extinction by the sealing industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is widely believed that animals emigrating from South Georgia, where a relict population escaped sealing, contributed to the re-establishment of formerly occupied breeding colonies across the geographical range of the species.

2006_04_25_Blondie 1.JPG

To investigate this, we interrogated a genetic polymorphism (S291F) in the melanocortin 1 receptor gene, which is responsible for a cream-coloured phenotype that is relatively abundant at South Georgia and which appears to have recently spread to localities as far afield as Marion Island in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean. By sequencing a short region of this gene in 1492 pups from eight breeding colonies, we showed that S291F frequency rapidly declines with increasing geographical distance from South Georgia, consistent with locally restricted gene flow from South Georgia mainly to the South Shetland Islands and Bouvetøya. The S291F allele was not detected farther afield, suggesting that although emigrants from South Georgia may have been locally important, they are unlikely to have played a major role in the recovery of geographically more distant populations.

Hoffman et al. 2018 Royal Society Open Science  (

Field assistant posts for Marion Island 2019-2020 - CLOSED

Research, People and structures_ (5).JPG

Three field assistant positions (2 x "Sealers" and 1 x "Whaler") are once again available at Marion Island, April 2019 - May 2020. All three positions are embedded within the research programme: "Marion Island Marine Mammals: Individual Variation and Population Processes in Changing Environments", maintained through the University of Pretoria.

For instructions please read the advertisements carefully here:

Mammalogist- Seals

Mammalogist- Killer Whales

Application link  below:


DEADLINE: 30 September 2018

*Emailed submissions will not be accepted.

An overview documentary of what you might expect in these positions can be viewed here and further insight about our science gained by listening to a public talk (here) or viewing our publications. Additional information about the positions and a background to the  programme can be found on our programme history, 'working with us' and FAQ pages.

If you want a good idea of what life as a sealer is all about on Marion, consider purchasing a copy of our book - 'Pain forms the Character'