The Marine Mammal Programme (MMP) conducts research on pinnipeds and killer whales Orcinus orca at Marion Island, Prince Edward Islands, under the auspices of the Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria. The history of the MMP, which has benefited from collaboration with leading national and international researchers, is described from its start through to current research. The setting up of long-term studies such as the mark-resighting of southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina commenced in 1983. The elephant seal population declined by 87% between an initial census in 1951 and 2004. This was followed by a stabilisation period and a current increase. The recovery, and subsequent increase of sympatric populations of Subantarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis and Antarctic fur seals A. gazella (following cessation of commercial sealing), are documented. Insights into many aspects of elephant seal and fur seal biology, including life history, demography, diet, growth, foraging and ranging behaviour are described. Ancillary work on morphology, genetics, anthropogenic influences and rare events are mentioned, as well as the extent of current research that addresses population dynamics in an ecosystem context. Opportunistic photographic identification of killer whales and recent dedicated observations at Marion Island are used to determine population size, seasonal abundance and sociality of this population, and to further understanding of its potential impact on resident pinniped populations.
Keywords: Antarctic fur seal, foraging ecology, killer whale, population dynamics, southern elephant seal, Subantarctic fur seal
African Journal of Marine Science 2011, 33(3): 511–521