Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) use raptorial biting and suction feeding when targeting prey in different foraging scenarios

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 12;9(11):e112521. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112521. eCollection 2014.


Foraging behaviours used by two female Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) were documented during controlled feeding trials. During these trials the seals were presented with prey either free-floating in open water or concealed within a mobile ball or a static box feeding device. When targeting free-floating prey both subjects primarily used raptorial biting in combination with suction, which was used to draw prey to within range of the teeth. When targeting prey concealed within either the mobile or static feeding device, the seals were able to use suction to draw out prey items that could not be reached by biting. Suction was followed by lateral water expulsion, where water drawn into the mouth along with the prey item was purged via the sides of the mouth. Vibrissae were used to explore the surface of the feeding devices, especially when locating the openings in which the prey items had been hidden. The mobile ball device was also manipulated by pushing it with the muzzle to knock out concealed prey, which was not possible when using the static feeding device. To knock prey out of this static device one seal used targeted bubble blowing, where a focused stream of bubbles was blown out of the nose into the openings in the device. Once captured in the jaws, prey items were manipulated and re-oriented using further mouth movements or chews so that they could be swallowed head first. While most items were swallowed whole underwater, some were instead taken to the surface and held in the teeth, while being vigorously shaken to break them into smaller pieces before swallowing. The behavioural flexibility displayed by Australian fur seals likely assists in capturing and consuming the extremely wide range of prey types that are targeted in the wild, during both benthic and epipelagic foraging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Deglutition / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fur Seals / physiology*
  • Mastication / physiology

Grant support

This study was supported by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment and Monash University. ARE acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.