Numbers of Australian fur-seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) pups have declined for the first time in more than three decades, according to a study published on 5 September1.
Researchers compared the latest count, collected in 2013-14, with an overall trend in the population since monitoring began in 1986. Pup numbers roughly doubled between 1986 and 2002, to reach about 20,000 individuals. The population increased slightly between 2002 and 2007.
But only 16,516 pups were recorded during a population-wide survey of colonies along the coasts of southeast Australia in 2013–14. This represents a decline of around 4% per year since 2007.
The study did report some good news. Three new colonies were identified in 2013, and pup numbers have increased at several colonies.
The researchers suggest that pup numbers could be declining in some colonies because the populations are approaching the maximum size that the local environments can sustain. They also noted that food availability had been unusually low in 2013–14.
But they also raised the concern that this could be the start of a sustained decline in Australian fur seal numbers. Unpublished data from the most recent census, which ended in February, suggests that pup numbers are not bouncing back.