Insights from the first global population estimate of Weddell seals in Antarctica

Michelle LaRue, Leo Salas, Nadav Nur, David Ainley, Sharon Stammerjohn, Jean Pennycook, Melissa Dozier, Jon Saints, Kostas Stamatiou, Luke Barrington, Jay Rotella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations

Abstract

The Weddell seal is one of the best-studied marine mammals in the world, owing to a multidecadal demographic effort in the southernmost part of its range. Despite their occurrence around the Antarctic coastline, we know little about larger scale patterns in distribution, population size, or structure. We combined high-resolution satellite imagery from 2011, crowd-sourcing, and habitat modeling to report the first global population estimate for the species and environmental factors that influence its distribution. We estimated ~202,000 (95% confidence interval: 85,345 to 523,140) sub-adult and adult female seals, with proximate ocean depth and fast-ice variables as factors explaining spatial prevalence. Distances to penguin colonies were associated with seal presence, but only emperor penguin population size had a strong negative relationship. The small, estimated population size relative to previous estimates and the seals' nexus with trophic competitors indicates that a community ecology approach is required in efforts to monitor the Southern Ocean ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereabh3674
JournalScience Advances
Volume7
Issue number39
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works. Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC).

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