Sub-Antarctic fur seals depredate northern rockhopper penguins at Nightingale Island, Tristan da Cunha


The most plausible hypothesis for declining population trends of some marine top predators at the northern extent of their breeding ranges in the Southern Ocean is that it results from environmental change. Sub-Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis are opportunistic and pelagic foragers that feed on a variety of fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans throughout their range. Penguins are also targeted, but to what extent remains uncertain, with only two records to date: Amsterdam Island, South Indian Ocean, where they kill and feed on northern rockhopper penguins Eudyptes moseleyi; and Gough Island, the southernmost island in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, South Atlantic Ocean, where they are suspected to be significant predators of northern rockhopper penguins based on an unprecedented number of penguin carcasses (> 100) found floating at sea in 2011. We report the first documented records of such predations from the northern islands in the Tristan archipelago. Over three austral summers (2015–2017), northern rockhopper penguins with severe injuries were frequently observed at Nightingale Island. The cause of the wounds was unknown, but seal or shark attacks seemed probable. In January 2019, the first confirmed sighting of a sub-Antarctic fur seal, predating a healthy northern rockhopper penguin at sea off Nightingale Island was recorded. It remains uncertain whether the large A. tropicalis population at the Tristan da Cunha islands is significant predators of northern rockhopper penguins, but this could partly explain the significant recent decrease in northern rockhopper penguin population numbers.

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We thank Matthew Green, Wayne Swain, and Riaan Repetto for assistance in the field. Peter Foster made the video recording of the predation. Iain Staniland and an anonymous reviewer provided insightful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to M. N. Bester.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interests.

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Field procedures were approved by the Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department and the Animal Ethics Committee of the University of Pretoria.

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Bester, M.N., Dilley, B.J., Davies, D. et al. Sub-Antarctic fur seals depredate northern rockhopper penguins at Nightingale Island, Tristan da Cunha. Polar Biol 43, 925–927 (2020).

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  • Sub-Antarctic fur seal
  • Northern rockhopper penguin
  • Predation
  • Nightingale Island
  • South Atlantic Ocean