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Prioritising range-wide scientific monitoring of the Cape fur seal in southern Africa

SP Kirkman
WH Oosthuizen
MA Meÿer
SM Seakamela
LG Underhill


The range of the Cape fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus population largely coincides with the region of the cold, nutrient-rich Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME) adjoining the west coast of South Africa, Namibia and Angola. Range-wide scientific monitoring of the seal population was initiated in the 1970s to inform on population management questions related to commercial seal harvesting and seal–fishery interactions. Since the 1970s, seal-related management goals have changed, especially in South Africa where seal harvesting ceased in 1990 and government has conformed to scientific advice  against the culling of seals for the intended benefit of fisheries. However,  renewed impetus has been provided to seal research and monitoring through the expansion of the ‘ecosystem-based management’ concept in the region, as well as improved international cooperation in the management of marine resources. Together with wide-scale ecosystem changes in the marine environment, and forecast effects of global climate changes, this has justified the continuation and improvement of range-wide scientific monitoring of Cape fur seals. We  prioritised seal monitoring based on cost, effort, and relevance to monitoring objectives that have been identified for the region, with consideration given to  the conservation status of top predators, interspecific and predator-fishery interactions and the potential use of Cape fur seals as indicators of ecosystem health. An integrated approach incorporating a suite of life-history attributes of seals is recommended, useful monitoring tools are discussed and the need for coordinated monitoring effort and standardisation of sampling techniques is emphasised.

Keywords: Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus, Benguela, conservation, ecosystem-based management, indicator, monitoring, top predator

African Journal of Marine Science 2011, 33(3): 495–509