Marion Island

Marion Island

Zoological Research

On March 24, 1999 Dr. Brent Stewart of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute left from sunny San Diego, Calif. for Marion Island, off the coast of South Africa. The weather in Marion Island has been described as "some of the worst in the world." High winds, rare glimpses of the sun, and below freezing temperatures during the winter make Marion Island a daunting destination. Why will Dr. Stewart call Marion Island his home for the next month? To study southern elephant seals, and to track them by satellite.

Dr. Stewart and Dr. Marthan Bester, of the University of Pretoria's Mammal Research Institute, will break new ground with this study by identifying the migration patterns of adult and juvenile male southern elephant seals. Elephant seals spend the vast majority of their lives at sea without coming ashore. Some spend up to 80% of the year in the water. Drs. Stewart and Bester hope to learn where these awesome southern ocean mammals travel, and perhaps discover how they live along the way. Their research is being supported by the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, the University of Pretoria, the South African National Antarctic Program, and the South African Department of Environment and Tourism.

Southern Elephant Seals

Male southern elephant seals are the largest seals in the world. Males may reach lengths of 5 m ( 16.4 ft.) and 5000 kg (11,000 lbs.), although some scientists dispute this upper range. Female southern elephant seals are considerably smaller. They may reach 3 m (9.8 ft) in length and weigh up to 800 kg (1700 lbs.). As male southern elephant seals reach maturity, they grow a longer snout called a "proboscis." Although noticeable, the proboscis on a male southern elephant seal does not reach the lengths of their northern counterparts. The northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) occurs in the northern hemisphere, off the west coast of North America. Elephant seals have large black eyes, best suited for absorbing limited light during deep dives.

Southern elephant seals live in the Southern Ocean around the Antarctic continent, but mostly north of the pack ice. Both males and females eat mainly cephalopods and fish. Cephalopod is the name for a class of Mollusks that includes squids and octopuses. Leopard seals may prey on elephant seal pups and juveniles, while killer whales may eat adult seals. Southern elephant seals may live to be 20 to 25 years old.

Mirounga leonina

Mystery Photo

What is this? What is it used for? How does it relate to Dr. Stewart's research?

Guesses for this photo:

"It is the Back "feet" of a sea lion." Bradley, age 3.5
"la piel de un elefante marino" Arturo, 9 años
"A seal flipper. " Cole, age 9
"it is a puppet used when a seal is rejected by its mother. It is used when it is to be fed. It is something to rub against for the pup, and used for bringing the pups to you" Michael, age 15
"Its some kind of squid or fish" Trista, age 12
"Manatee" Sara, age 10
"rubber" Olga, age 16
""I think it is some kind of a dolphin, a very rare species of one." Chas, age 12
"I think it's to help breed endangered seals." Name Unknown, age 11
"I think it's a telecommunicater" Name Unknown, age 11
"Elephant seal", St.Johns fifth grade class
"I think it is the flipper of an elephant seal!!!!!!!!!!" Celina, age 11
"A southern elephant seal giving birth" Cathy, age 11
"lung of a elephant seal" Lauran, age 10
"a fish " Name Unknown, age 11
"I think it is a arctic seals tail" Nate, age 11
"a whale's fin" Bobby, age 11
"Sea monkey" Bobby, age 11
"I think it's a walrus paw that the meat has been taken out." Niki, age 11
"tail of an elephant seal" Kristina, age 11
"it is the tail of a sea lion laying down" Jesus, age 13
"the front or back flippers of a elephant seal " Lauran, age 10
"It is the back flippers of a sea lion." Aline, age 12
"I think it is a cave bat." Name Unknown
"I think it is a tail of a seal." Tiffany, age 9 1/2
"walrus " Justin, age 11
"I think that it is a scooper thing." Emily, age 10
""I think it is a penguin!" Jim, age 13
"I think that it is a dead squid" Lawanna, age 13
"It is a flipper from a sea lion or a seal" Lucie, age 14
"I think it is the flippers of a seal" Sunny, age 9
"I think it is a flipper of a seal." Michelle, age 13
"It's the remains of an Elephant Seal" St. Joseph's class, ages 9-10
"It's the back flipper of the elephant seal" St.Joseph's school, fourth grade
"Is it a glove used for feeding seals" Andrew, age 10
"A walrus" Christina, age 10
"An elephant seal's foot" Jonathan, age 10
"Is it a glove to protect your hand?" Sarah, age 9
"I think that it is the back flipper of a Southern Elephant Seal" Katrina, age 12
"This picture is a back flipper of a sea lion" Quillyn Brown, age 13

The correct answer is: the hind flippers of a southern elephant seal. Congratulations to those who guessed correctly!

What's It Like on Marion Island?

Marion is an island marked by constants: constantly low temperatures, constantly high winds, frequent precipitation, and nearly constant cloud cover. No trees grow on Marion Island. Instead, mosses and ferns make up the majority of the vegetation. The rocky coastline is a haul-out area for thousands of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) during breeding and molting seasons. The entire island measures 19 km long by 12 km wide.

Many kinds of birds call Marion Island home. Several species of penguins, including rockhopper, king, macaroni, and gentoo, hop ashore to breed and nest. Seabirds such as petrels, skuas, and albatrosses can be found on the island as well. Marion Island lies south of the Equator and experiences seasonal changes opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere. For example, although June and July are warm months in the United States, these months correspond with winter-time in the Southern Hemisphere. In April, it is now autumn on Marion Island with winter beginning in a few months.