Diet of the Cape fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus at the Robberg Peninsula, Plettenberg Bay, and implications for local fisheries
AbstractCape fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus were harvested to extirpation on the Robberg Peninsula, Plettenberg Bay, on the south-east coast of South Africa, between the 17th and early 20th centuries. Seals returned to Robberg in small numbers during the early 1990s and their numbers subsequently increased. We studied the diet of this increasing population using faecal (scat) sampling to determine: the species composition and size of prey in the diet of Cape fur seals at Robberg; to explore temporal variation in the diet; and to investigate the potential for competition between seals and the fisheries around Plettenberg Bay. Of the 445 scats collected, 90% contained hard prey remains and 15 teleost prey species were represented in the 3 127 otoliths that could be identified. The seals’ most important prey species in terms of numerical abundance, frequency of occurrence and mass in the diet, were anchovy Engraulis encrasicolus, sardine Sardinops sagax, horse mackerel Trachurus capensis, sand tongue-fish Cynoglossus capensis and shallow-water hake Merluccius capensis (in decreasing order of importance for numerical abundance). The proportion of anchovy in the diet increased during the study period (2003–2008), whereas the proportion of sardine decreased. The estimated average annual consumption of sardine by seals was higher than the average annual catch made by purse-seine fisheries in this area, suggesting resource competition between seals and purse-seiners, especially in the light of continuing growth of seal numbers in the area. However, direct competition between seals and linefisheries appeared to be minimal. Scat sampling of Cape fur seals holds potential to serve a useful and cost effective indicator of temporal changes in sardine abundance.
Keywords: marine protected area, pinnipeds, sardine, scat analysis, South Africa
African Journal of Marine Science 2012, 34(3): 431–441