Surveys of Antarctic fur seals entangled in man-made marine debris were carried out for the third consecutive winter and fifth consecutive summer at Bird Island, South Georgia. In the 1992 winter an unprecedented number of 97 entangled seals were seen, a ten-fold increase on the previous two years and with twice as many seals suffering serious injuries. Almost all animals involved were juvenile males, the main element of the population seen ashore at Bird Island at this time of year. In the summer, 84 entangled seals were seen. This was a 75% increase from 1992 and contained more adult females than usual. Otherwise, the nature of the entangling debris (50% packaging bands, 25% fishing net), the categories of seal affected (60% juvenile males, 30% adult females) and the severity of injuries (40% serious) was similar to previous years. The increased incidence of entanglement in both winter and summer is disturbing, particularly following two years of relatively low incidence. It cannot be accounted for by changes in the foraging ecology of fur seals at South Georgia nor by obvious changes in fishing practice, except possibly for the increase in vessels engaged in long-line fishing, which uses bait boxes tied with packaging bands. CCAMLR needs to renew its vigilance with respect to marine debris and should consider requiring the use of packaging bands on fishing vessels to be phased out.
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