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DPLUS139: Tracking seabirds and seals in the Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands, are a globally significant wildlife wonder spot. Home to 75% of the global population of Black-browed albatross, 50% of the global population of South American fur seals, 30% of the global population of Rockhopper and Gentoo penguins, to list but a few. This means that population trends of Falklands seals and seabirds disproportionately influence the global population trends and conservation status of these species. To protect seals and seabirds, it is essential to understand their spatial distribution at-sea, potential threats and relevant spatial scales of management. Yet surprisingly, we know very little about the at-sea usage of the largest populations of Rockhopper penguins, Magellanic penguins, Thin Billed Prions and South American fur seals to name but a few. Our project is a multi-species project, which includes Rockhopper, Magellanic and Gentoo penguins, Thin-billed prions, Black-browed albatross, Imperial shags and South American fur seals.

At the most basic level, our project will fill data gaps and quantify the at-sea distribution for globally significant breeding colonies of seabirds and seals in the Falkland Islands. We will use this data to then achieve two high-level project aims:

  1. To quantify exposure to anthropogenic threats across the entire foraging range of these species (that is over the entire Patagonian Shelf), by using freely available big ocean datasets, such as Global Fishing Watch.
  2. To quantify important at-sea areas for seals and seabirds, by combining tracking data with an ensemble modelling approach. This will, in-turn, help support and inform the proposed Falkland Islands Marine Managed Areas (MMAs), because it will allow us to quantify how these predators use the proposed MMAs, and highlight other management considerations.

Follow our Falkland fur seal tracking live!

Did you know that the Falkland Islands are home to the largest population of South American fur seals in the world? To understand dispersal and connectivity between the Falkland Islands and other South American fur seal populations, we have been busy deploying satellite tags on pups as part of a larger tracking project (funded by Darwin and the Winnifred Violet Scott Trust). 

Falkland fur seal pups are born in December. They wean when they are about 10 months of age – so anytime from late October onwards pups will leave home for the first time, and will likely stay at-sea for many months (although we don’t really know for how long!). We deployed the satellite tags on Flat Jason Island (the Jason Islands Group is home to over 95% of the Falkland Islands fur seal population). Satellite tags are not super helpful if you want to look at fine-scale movements, for example over a couple of km, because they can have quite a large error (uncertainty) associated with each location. However, we we expect pups will disperse over hundred to thousands of kilometers. So, while although there is error associated with satellite tags (and we will need to account for with fancy mathematical models) – the error is much smaller than the scale at which we expect the pups will move. Fingers crossed the pups find plenty of fish and squid on their travels!

Feel free to reach out for any further information to info@saeri.ac.fk


This research forms part of the Darwin Initiative project DPLUS139, a project that was developed in partnership with FIG.