The elephant seal project

The research project is focused on behavioural ecology of reproduction of male and female southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina Linnaeus 1758). We started the project in 1995 and carried on for more than 20 years now, being in the field each year for the whole length of the breeding season, from the end of August to the beginning of December in the early years of the projects, and 7-8 months in recent years. We expect to continue field work this year, and our plan is to carry on the research in the long term, to be able to track the life histories of many individuals for their whole life. The Mirounga genus comprises two species, the northern elephant seal (M. angustirostris), who inhabits the cost of California, and the southern. Southern elephant seals have a circumantarctic distribution, with populations grouped in three main stocks (South Georgia, Kerguelen, and Macquairie).

The elephant seal population of the Falklands is part of the South Georgia stock, which includes South Georgia, the South Orkney Islands, King George Island, Gough Island and the Valdes Peninsula. The Falklands population could provide a link between the two larger populations of the breeding stock, namely those of South Georgia and the Valdes Peninsula, but it appears to be almost isolated from these two populations during the breeding season. Map of South Georgia stock Our research area is Sea Lion Island (52° 26' S; 59° 05' W), the main breeding site of elephant seals in the Falkland Islands. We are also collecting a lot of information about the general biology of the population, and we are trying to put together information about elephant seals in the rest of the Falklands.
Sea Lion Island shelter a small, localized population of elephant seals, that we are studying in great detail by marking almost all breeding individuals every season, by spending a large amount of time in the field doing behavioural observations, and by using a mixture of different techniques to gather accurate measurements of different aspects of individual phenotype of males and females.

The field work carried on until now resulted in: