Macquarie Island and Ridge IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

11,851 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Antarctic fur seal – Arctocephalus gazella  

Criterion C (i; ii)

Subantarctic fur seal – Arctocephalus tropicalis

Criterion C (i; ii)

Antarctic fur seal – Arctocephalus forsteri

Criterion C (i; ii)

Southern elephant seal – Mirounga leonina 

Criterion C (i)

Killer whale – Orcinus orca

Criterion C (ii)

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Criterion D (ii)

Physeter macrocephalus, Megaptera novaeangliae, Eubalaena australis, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, Berardius arnuxii, Mesoplodon bowdoini, Mesoplodon layardii, Ziphius cavirostris, Globicephala melas, Phocoena dioptrica, Lissodelphis peronii, Hydrurga leptonyx, Phocarctos hookeri


Macquarie Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1997), lies in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, at 54°30’S, 158°57’E. Regionally part of Oceania and politically a part of Tasmania, Australia, since 1900, it became a Tasmanian State Reserve in 1978. Macquarie Island is a site of high diversity for marine mammals with the following marine mammal species breeding there: southern elephant seals (McMahon et al. 2005) and (Goldsworthy et al. 1999; 2009) and Antarctic, Subantarctic and New Zealand fur seals. The fur seal community at Macquarie Island is the only sub-Antarctic island where all three sympatric fur-seal species are known to reside (Goldsworthy et al. 1999; 2009, Lancaster et al., 2006; 2007). Southern elephant seals have a nearly circumpolar distribution in the Southern Ocean with most haul-out sites occurring on sub-Antarctic and Antarctic islands (Ling, J. K., and M. M. Bryden. 1992. Mirounga leonina. Mammalian Species 391:1-8.). Four distinct stocks are recognised, centred on South Georgia, Kerguelen, and Macquarie Islands (Laws 1960). There is little interchange between these groups and there are phenotypic differences in size, growth, and onset of maturity (Laws 1979; Ling & Bryden 1981). The Macquarie Island stock includes 99% of the southern elephant seal population in the South Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean, the remaining 1% comprising the small populations breeding at Campbell and Antipodes Islands (Taylor & Taylor 1989). The Macquarie Island population has been continuously decreasing for the past seven decades at 1.2 % per annum (McMahon et al. 2005; Hindell et al. 2017).

Leopard seals are vagrant visitors to the island. Stays usually last from one to two days but may extend for over three months (Rounseveld and Eberhard 1980). Occurrences of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the waters surrounding Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island have been recorded since the 1820s (Travers et al. 2018). Killer whales are regular seasonal visitors to Macquarie Island where they are known to feed on southern elephant seals, fur seals and penguins; sightings peak from October to December (Travers et al. 2018). Many other cetacean species have been described from Macquarie Island (Clarke et al. 2017) including long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas), southern right whale dolphins (Lissodelphis peronii) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). Baleen whales such as southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) also strand on occasion (Clarke et al. 2017). Five species of beaked whales have also been documented from strandings records (Clarke et al. 2017).

Though Subantarctic fur seals are nationally listed as Endangered in Australia, as are Southern elephant seals (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (2016a & b) the wider species population, to which these animals belong remain as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (Hofmeyr 2015).

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion Ci: Reproductive Areas

Macquarie Island is a breeding site for three Arctocephalus species (Antarctic, sub-Antarctic fur seal and New Zealand fur seal) between November and April each year (Goldsworthy et al. 2008). These populations are recovering slowly following harvesting on the island in the early 1800s (Goldsworthy et al. 2008). The sub-Antarctic fur seal is their only significant breeding site in this region (Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2016a). Southern elephant seals, breed each year from August to October on Macquarie Island (McMahon et al. 2005; Hindell et al. 2017).

Sub-criterion Cii: Feeding Areas

Macquarie Island southern elephant seals and other species are a seasonal prey resource for visiting killer whales (Travers et al. 2018). The region to the north of Macquarie Island, along the Macquarie Ridge, also provides important central place foraging habitat for New Zealand fur seals (Shaughnessy & Goldsworthy, 1993) as well as the nationally endangered sub-Antarctic and Antarctic fur seals breeding on the island (Robinson et al. 2002). Killer whales are regular seasonal visitors to Macquarie Island where they are known to feed on southern elephant seals, fur seals and penguins; sightings peak from October to December (Travers et al. 2018).

Criterion D: Special Attributes

Sub-criterion Dii: Diversity

Four species of pinnipeds breed on Macquarie Island (southern elephant seals and three Arctocephalus spp.), and leopard seals and New Zealand sea lions are vagrants to the island feed in waters surrounding the island (Rounseveld and Eberhard 1980, Robinson et al. 1999). A diverse group of cetacean species have been described from Macquarie Island historically and more recently from sightings and strandings data (Clarke et al. 2017). Commonly recorded cetacean species include long-finned pilot whales, southern right whale dolphins and sperm whales, which can be sighted from the island. Southern right and humpback whales, listed as Endangered in Tasmanian waters, are also known from strandings and sightings data (Clarke et al. 2017). Importantly, the Macquarie Island region supports high beaked whale diversity as evidenced from stranding and skeletal remains of Arnoux’s (Berardius arnuxii), Andrews’(Mesoplodon bowdoini), Blainville’s (Mesoplodon densirostris), strap-toothed (Mesoplodon layardii) and Cuvier’s (Ziphius cavirostris) beaked whales (Clarke et al. 2017).

Supporting Information

Clarke, R. H., Gales, R., & Schulz, M. 2017. Land-based observations of cetaceans and a review of recent strandings at subantarctic Macquarie Island. Australian Mammalogy, 39(2), 248-253.

Corrigan, L. J., A. Fabiani, L. F. Chauke, C. R. McMahon, M. de Bruyn, M. N. Bester, A. D. S. Bastos, C. Campagna, M. M. C. Muelbert, and A. R. Hoelzel. 2016. Population differentiation in the context of Holocene climate change for a migratory marine species, the southern elephant seal. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 29:1667-1679.

Goldsworthy, S. D., McKenzie, J., Page, B., Lancaster, M. L., Shaughnessy, P. D., Wynen, L. P., & McIntosh, R. R. 2009. Fur seals at Macquarie Island: post-sealing colonisation, trends in abundance and hybridisation of three species. Polar Biology, 32(10), 1473-1486.

Goldsworthy, S. D. 1999. Maternal attendance behaviour of sympatrically breeding Antarctic and subantarctic fur seals, Arctocephalus spp., at Macquarie Island. Polar Biology, 21(5), 316-325.

Hindell, M. A., Sumner, M., Bestley, S., Wotherspoon, S., Harcourt, R. G., Lea, M-A. & McMahon, C. R. 2017. Decadal changes in habitat characteristics influence population trajectories of southern elephant seals. Global Change Biology, 23(12), 5136-5150.

Hofmeyr, G.J.G. 2015. Arctocephalus tropicalis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T2062A45224547.

Lancaster, M. L., Gemmell, N. J., Negro, S., Goldsworthy, S., & Sunnucks, P. 2006. Ménage à trois on Macquarie Island: hybridization among three species of fur seal (Arctocephalus spp.) following historical population extinction. Molecular Ecology, 15(12), 3681-3692.

Lancaster, M. L., Goldsworthy, S. D., & Sunnucks, P. 2007. Multiple mating strategies explain unexpected genetic mixing of New Zealand fur seals with two congenerics in a recently recolonized population. Molecular Ecology, 16(24), 5267-5276.

McMahon, C. R., Bester, M. N., Burton, H. R., Hindell, M. A., & Bradshaw, C. J. 2005. Population status, trends and a re‐examination of the hypotheses explaining the recent declines of the southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina. Mammal Review, 35(1), 82-100.

Macleod, Colin D., Perrin, William F., Pitman, Robert, et al. 2006. Known and inferred distributions of beaked whale species (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 2005, vol. 7, no 3, p. 271.

Robinson, S., Wynen, L., & Goldsworthy, S. 1999. Predation by a Hooker’s sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) on a small population of fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) at Macquarie Island. Marine Mammal Science, 15(3), 888-893.

Robinson, S. A., Goldsworthy, S. G., Van den Hoff, J., & Hindell, M. A. 2002. The foraging ecology of two sympatric fur seal species, Arctocephalus gazella and Arctocephalus tropicalis, at Macquarie Island during the austral summer. Marine and Freshwater Research, 53(7), 1071-1082.

Rounseveld, D. and Eberhard, I. 1980. Leopard seals, Hydrurga leptonyx (Pinnipedia), at Macquarie Island from 1949 to 1979. Australian Wildlife Research 7: 403-415.

Shaughnessy P, Goldsworthy S. 1993. Feeding ecology of southern fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) and their management at Heard and Macquarie Islands. Proc NIPR Symp Polar Biol 6:173–175

Threatened Species Scientific Committee. 2016a. Conservation Advice Arctocephalus tropicalis subantarctic fur seal. Canberra: Department of the Environment and Energy. Available from: 

Threatened Species Scientific Committee. 2016b. Conservation Advice Mirounga leonina southern elephant seal. Canberra: Department of the Environment and Energy. Available from: 

Taylor, Rowland H., and Graeme A. Taylor. 1989. “Re‐assessment of the status of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) in New Zealand.” New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 23.2 (1989): 201-213.

Travers, T., Van den Hoff, J., Lea, M-A., Carlyon, K., Reisinger, R., de Bruyn, P. N., & Morrice, M. 2018. Aspects of the ecology of killer whale (Orcinus orca Linn.) groups in the near-shore waters of Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. Polar Biology, 41(11), 2249-2259.



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