BackgroundTo understand and predict the distribution of foragers, it is crucial to identify the factors that affect individual movement decisions at different scales. Individuals are expected to adjust their foraging movements to the hierarchical spatial distribution of resources. At a small local scale, spatial segregation in foraging habitat happens among individuals of closely situated colonies. If foraging segregation is due to differences in distribution of resources, we would expect segregated foraging areas to have divergent habitat characteristics.ResultsWe investigated how environmental characteristics of preferred foraging areas differ between two closely situated Subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) colonies and a single Antarctic fur seal (A. gazella) colony that forage in different pelagic areas even though they are located well within each other’s foraging range. We further investigated the influence of the seasonal cycle on those environmental factors. This study used tracking data from 121 adult female Subantarctic and Antarctic fur seals, collected during summer and winter (2009–2015), from three different colonies. Boosted Regression Tree species distribution models were used to determine key environmental variables associated with areas of fur seal restricted search behaviour. There were no differences in the relative influence of key environmental variables between colonies and seasons. The variables with the most influence for each colony and season were latitude, longitude and magnitude of sea-currents. The influence of latitude and longitude is a by-product of the species’ distinct foraging areas, despite the close proximity (< 25 km) of the colonies. The predicted potential foraging areas for each colony changed from summer to winter, reflecting the seasonal cycle of the Southern Ocean. The model predicted that the potential foraging areas of females from the three colonies should overlap, and the fact they do not in reality indicates that factors other than environmental are influencing the location of each colony’s foraging area.ConclusionsThe results indicated that small scale spatial segregation of foraging habitats is not driven by bottom-up processes. It is therefore important to also consider other potential drivers, e.g. competition, information transfer, and memory, to understand animal foraging decisions and movements.