In addition to advancing our mission of inspiring international marine mammal conservation through training programs, staff from The Marine Mammal Center are also involved in collaborative research around the world.
Highlight: Studying South American fur seals in northern Patagonia, Chile
Stranding coordinator Geno DeRango participated in a project on Guafo Island, Chile in 2013. Since 2003, a multidisciplinary group of researchers and students have been working at the fur seal rookery and other sites of Guafo Island to uncover aspects of the population dynamics, ecology and diseases of South American fur seals. Researchers stay at the fur seal rookery for three months (from December to March), and visit the rookery every day to count births, retrieve dead pups to determine causes of death, and also perform health assessments to assess the health status of the pups.
Thanks to Geno’s collaboration, the group was able to capture adult females and their pups this year. This is extremely important since if there are data on mom-pup pairs more detailed health assessments can provide a more complete look at their immune systems and metabolic status. Thanks to the current advance of immunologic techniques with a simple blood sample today we can know if the animal is under physiological stress or if it has a better capability to respond to parasitic infections.
Additionally during his stay at Guafo Island, Geno addressed the increasing numbers of fur seals that we see entangled in marine debris. This could be an indicator of increasing interaction of the fur seals with fisheries activities and also urges action to mitigate their effects. Fishery gear and other plastic debris can be found commonly in the rookery and pups have drowned after becoming entangled.
As Geno proposed, it is critical to identify the sources of this debris and measure the impact on fur seals since there could be effects on their health that are not easily seen. For instance fur seals can eat microscopic particles of plastic when they forage at the ocean and it is well known that plastic compounds can have negative impacts on the endocrine system of many mammals.
Learn more about this research program here: Studying South American fur seals in northern Patagonia, Chile