The northern Benguela ecosystem adjoining Namibia has undergone considerable changes in recent decades, with reductions and northwards shifts of key prey species that have had severe implications for marine top predator populations. We investigated how such environmental variability may impact foraging behaviour of the Cape fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus, using satellite telemetry on animals in northern, central and southern Namibia. We expected that seal foraging behaviour would reflect a gradient of deteriorating feeding conditions from north to south. Results showed that foraging trips were shorter in the central region, where seals fed over the continental shelf, than in the north or south, where seals fed at the shelf edge. However, whereas seals in the north showed strong fidelity to the colony at which they were tagged and to persistent, clustered foraging areas, seals in the south showed weak fidelity both to the colony at which they were tagged and to foraging areas, which were scattered and variable. Seals in the south also tended to migrate northwards to other colonies while concurrently adapting their foraging behaviour to local conditions. Flexible use of foraging space and colonies of Cape fur seals during the three-year period (2002–2004) demonstrates that the species is adapted for variable environments over time and space.
Keywords: ecosystem shifts; foraging ecology; marine mammals; marine top predators; trophic interactions
African Journal of Marine Science 2009, 31(3): 399–408