Featuring research teams currently on the Gough Island takeover expedition. 
Gough Island Expedition_2023_subantarctic fur seals_Tristan da Cunha

The Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department recruited two Tristan Islanders to assist in the field at Tristan for the duration of the takeover. Image of the two members of a previous team.

During the annual Gough Island takeover (relief) expedition, the S.A. Agulhas II delivers passengers and cargo to Tristan da Cunha Island, which is 350 kilometers from Gough Island.  Additionally, several researchers are given the chance to carry out their research at Tristan da Cunha during the relief period for Gough Island.

Prof Marthán Bester,  semi-retired, Emeritus Professor and senior Research Fellow of the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, is currently on the Tristan da Cunha to conduct field research on Subantarctic fur seals.

Find our more below about this project and prospects for the takeover period. 


TEAMTristan Mammal Research
Project NameSubantarctic Fur Seals at the Tristan da Cunha Islands, South Atlantic Ocean
Principal Investigator Prof Marthán BesterUniversity of Pretoria
Co-Principal InvestigatorProf Nico de BruynUniversity of Pretoria
Co-Principal InvestigatorDr Mia WegeUniversity of Pretoria
Co-Principal InvestigatorMr. Trevor GlassTristan Conservation Department Head

The history of fur seal research on Tristan da Cunha

Fur seal research at the Tristan da Cunha (TdC) Islands started during the 1970s (1974–1978). In its present form, the research continues through a next phase (2009–2019), and beyond.

Short description of the project
Using Subantarctic fur seals as bioindicators of environmental conditions and as tools for suitable management of natural resources, contributing to observing marine ecosystems in the TdC Islands, since 2019 and beyond, the aim is to: (a) determine the seasonal attendance patterns of primarily lactating adult females, from the smallest (incipient) population of the species in the world at Cave Point Peninsula, TdC, (b) measure and contrast the growth rate and/or weaning mass of pups at the Cave Point breeding colony (10 month nursing period), (c) collect scat (non-invasive) and whiskers (invasive) samples for diet analyses.
During this ‘takeover’ the team aims to service and/or retrieve the Attendance Pattern Automated System (satellite-linked) at Cave Point, collect and process fur seal scat samples to determine diet, and weigh pup/under-yearling fur seals (at around 290 days of age) to compare their weaning weights amongst years and with those of pups from other island populations (including Gough Island).
In everyday language
The fur seals breed and rest on the islands, and they feed at sea. The research team aims to determine (1) what the seals feed on when they are away during feeding trips, (2) how well the pups, which remain on land, grow on a diet of milk which they suck from their mothers when these return to land after each feeding trip, and (3) how far away from the island, and for how long, do the mothers of the fur seal pups have to remain at sea on each feeding trip to be able to sustain their pups until weaning.
For more information visit about Subantarctic fur seals, click on the link below. 


Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme  

Tristan Mammal Funding

This project is funded by: The National Research Foundation (NRF-SANAP), The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department (TdC Conservation Department). 


Update posted by the Tristan Conservation Department (on Facebook, 09 October 2023):

“The weather has been very nice last week. The conservation team and professor Martian Bester managed to go to the caves to do seal work with the seal pups. It was a great success as they managed to weigh fifty pups. Martian has been working with the conservation department for fourty nine years but sadly this is his last year working with the conservation team as he is retiring”

Photo’s Taken by: Tristan Glass, Tristan Conservation Department.


Project information and feature image supplied by Prof Marthán Bester. 

Anche Louw, South African Polar Research Infrastructure, 03 October 2023, updated on 10 October 2023.

© South African National Antarctic Programme • Managed and administered by Antarctic Legacy of South Africa • Photo Credits
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