A recent study about the energy requirements of Antarctic fur seals pointed out that, despite climate models showing an increase in temperature, the windier and wetter conditions predicted for Antarctica may lead to lower survival rates for the seal pups.
“If climate change models are correct, changes in prey availability and climate may lead pups to conserve energy, resulting in negative impacts on the ability to transition successfully to nutritional independence” said study researcher Birgitte McDonald, a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
McDonald and her co-authors monitored 48 young fur seals on Livingston Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. They analyzed how much energy the pups consumed from their mother’s milk and how they used their “energy budget” over three periods during the first four months of life.
Newborns pups use around 60 percent of the energy from their mothers for growth. But as the pups get older and their mothers begin leaving them behind periodically, that percentage begins to fall.
Changes and fluctuations in weather due to climate change could affect how much energy the pups have to invest: predictions from climate models indicate that while the temperature on the island will increase, animals living in the area will also experience increased rainfall, higher wind speeds and more winter snowfall. These conditions would make it tougher for pups to keep warm: they are especially susceptible to heat loss because they are smaller and lack the insulation of full-grown seals. Therefore, all of these factors could lead to lower future pup survival rates.