Dive behaviour and foraging effort of female Cape fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus.
ABSTRACT: While marine top predators can play a critical role in ecosystem structure and dynamics through their effects on prey populations, how the predators function in this role is often not well understood. In the Benguela region of southern Africa, the Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) population constitutes the largest marine top predator biomass, but little is known of its foraging ecology other than its diet and some preliminary dive records. Dive information was obtained from 32 adult females instrumented with dive recorders at the Kleinsee colony (29°34.17' S, 16°59.80' E) in South Africa during 2006-2008. Most dives were in the depth range of epipelagic prey species (less than 50 m deep) and at night, reflecting the reliance of Cape fur seals on small, vertically migrating, schooling prey. However, most females also performed benthic dives, and benthic diving was prevalent in some individuals. Benthic diving was significantly associated with the frequency with which females exceeded their aerobic dive limit. The greater putative costs of benthic diving highlight the potential detrimental effects to Cape fur seals of well-documented changes in the availability of epipelagic prey species in the Benguela.
Project description: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.
Project description:Across an individual's life, foraging decisions will be affected by multiple intrinsic and extrinsic drivers that act at differing timescales. This study aimed to assess how female Australian fur seals allocated foraging effort and the behavioural changes used to achieve this at three temporal scales: within a day, across a foraging trip and across the final six months of the lactation period. Foraging effort peaked during daylight hours (57% of time diving) with lulls in activity just prior to and after daylight. Dive duration reduced across the day (196 s to 168 s) but this was compensated for by an increase in the vertical travel rate (1500-1600 m·h(-1)) and a reduction in postdive duration (111-90 s). This suggests physiological constraints (digestive costs) or prey availability may be limiting mean dive durations as a day progresses. During short trips (<2.9 d), effort remained steady at 55% of time diving, whereas, on long trips (>2.9 d) effort increased up to 2-3 d and then decreased. Dive duration decreased at the same rate in short and long trips, respectively, before stabilising (long trips) between 4-5 d. Suggesting that the same processes (digestive costs or prey availability) working at the daily scale may also be present across a trip. Across the lactation period, foraging effort, dive duration and vertical travel rate increased until August, before beginning to decrease. This suggests that as the nutritional demands of the suckling pup and developing foetus increase, female effort increases to accommodate this, providing insight into the potential constraints of maternal investment in this species.
Project description:BACKGROUND: ARGOS satellite telemetry is one of the most widely used methods to track the movements of free-ranging marine and terrestrial animals and is fundamental to studies of foraging ecology, migratory behavior and habitat-use. ARGOS location estimates do not include complete error estimations, and for many marine organisms, the most commonly acquired locations (Location Class 0, A, B, or Z) are provided with no declared error estimate. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We compared the accuracy of ARGOS Locations to those obtained using Fastloc GPS from the same electronic tags on five species of pinnipeds: 9 California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), 4 Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki), 6 Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus), 3 Australian fur seals (A. p. doriferus) and 5 northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). These species encompass a range of marine habitats (highly pelagic vs coastal), diving behaviors (mean dive durations 2-21 min) and range of latitudes (equator to temperate). A total of 7,318 ARGOS positions and 27,046 GPS positions were collected. Of these, 1,105 ARGOS positions were obtained within five minutes of a GPS position and were used for comparison. The 68(th) percentile ARGOS location errors as measured in this study were LC-3 0.49 km, LC-2 1.01 km, LC-1 1.20 km, LC-0 4.18 km, LC-A 6.19 km, LC-B 10.28 km. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The ARGOS errors measured here are greater than those provided by ARGOS, but within the range of other studies. The error was non-normally distributed with each LC highly right-skewed. Locations of species that make short duration dives and spend extended periods on the surface (sea lions and fur seals) had less error than species like elephant seals that spend more time underwater and have shorter surface intervals. Supplemental data (S1) are provided allowing the creation of density distributions that can be used in a variety of filtering algorithms to improve the quality of ARGOS tracking data.
Project description:The trophic behavior of marine predators varies according to the level of competition to which they are exposed. In general, populations that inhabit lower productivity systems face a strong intraspecific competition, which contributes to the development of different foraging strategies to maximize nutritional efficiency. Given the high trophic flexibility of Zalophus wollebaeki, this species is considered appropriate for the analysis of such behavior. Furthermore, this trophic flexibility has allowed them to persist in a seemingly marginal ecosystem. In this study, we used a comparative analysis of variables (diet and dive behavior) related to Z. wollebaeki trophic niche plasticity to better understand their foraging ecology, using techniques such scat analysis, satellite telemetry and complementarily an isotopic analysis. Scat analysis revealed intra-population variation in their diet, represented by prey from different environments (epipelagic and benthic). These results are supported by the animals' locations at sea and diving profiles. Global Positioning System (GPS) and time-depth recorder (TDR) records showed the existence of two groups, with differing feeding areas and diving behavior. Also the ?15N values showed differences in the trophic level at which the species fed. These results constitute a relevant finding in the evolutionary behavior of the species, showing that Z. wollebaeki has developed a high degree of foraging flexibility, thus increasing its survival rate in an ecosystem that is highly demanding in terms of resource availability.
Project description:Comprehension of ecological processes in marine animals requires information regarding dynamic vertical habitat use. While many pelagic predators primarily associate with epipelagic waters, some species routinely dive beyond the deep scattering layer. Actuation for exploiting these aphotic habitats remains largely unknown. Recent telemetry data from oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) in the Atlantic show a strong association with warm waters (>20°C) less than 200 m. Yet, individuals regularly exhibit excursions into the meso- and bathypelagic zone. In order to examine deep-diving behavior in oceanic whitetip sharks, we physically recovered 16 pop-up satellite archival tags and analyzed the high-resolution depth and temperature data. Diving behavior was evaluated in the context of plausible functional behavior hypotheses including interactive behaviors, energy conservation, thermoregulation, navigation, and foraging. Mesopelagic excursions (n = 610) occurred throughout the entire migratory circuit in all individuals, with no indication of site specificity. Six depth-versus-time descent and ascent profiles were identified. Descent profile shapes showed little association with examined environmental variables. Contrastingly, ascent profile shapes were related to environmental factors and appear to represent unique behavioral responses to abiotic conditions present at the dive apex. However, environmental conditions may not be the sole factors influencing ascents, as ascent mode may be linked to intentional behaviors. While dive functionality remains unconfirmed, our study suggests that mesopelagic excursions relate to active foraging behavior or navigation. Dive timing, prey constituents, and dive shape support foraging as the most viable hypothesis for mesopelagic excursions, indicating that the oceanic whitetip shark may regularly survey extreme environments (deep depths, low temperatures) as a foraging strategy. At the apex of these deep-water excursions, sharks exhibit a variable behavioral response, perhaps, indicating the presence or absence of prey.
Project description:Diving behaviour of short-finned pilot whales is often described by two states; deep foraging and shallow, non-foraging dives. However, this simple classification system ignores much of the variation that occurs during subsurface periods. We used multi-state hidden Markov models (HMM) to characterize states of diving behaviour and the transitions between states in short-finned pilot whales. We used three parameters (number of buzzes, maximum dive depth and duration) measured in 259 dives by digital acoustic recording tags (DTAGs) deployed on 20 individual whales off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, USA. The HMM identified a four-state model as the best descriptor of diving behaviour. The state-dependent distributions for the diving parameters showed variation between states, indicative of different diving behaviours. Transition probabilities were considerably higher for state persistence than state switching, indicating that dive types occurred in bouts. Our results indicate that subsurface behaviour in short-finned pilot whales is more complex than a simple dichotomy of deep and shallow diving states, and labelling all subsurface behaviour as deep dives or shallow dives discounts a significant amount of important variation. We discuss potential drivers of these patterns, including variation in foraging success, prey availability and selection, bathymetry, physiological constraints and socially mediated behaviour.
Project description:Within a heterogeneous environment, animals must efficiently locate and utilise foraging patches. One way animals can achieve this is by increasing residency times in areas where foraging success is highest (area-restricted search). For air-breathing diving predators, increased patch residency times can be achieved by altering both surface movements and diving patterns. The current study aimed to spatially identify the areas where female Australian fur seals allocated the most foraging effort, while simultaneously determining the behavioural changes that occur when they increase their foraging intensity. To achieve this, foraging behaviour was successfully recorded with a FastLoc GPS logger and dive behaviour recorder from 29 individual females provisioning pups. Females travelled an average of 118 ± 50 km from their colony during foraging trips that lasted 7.3 ± 3.4 days. Comparison of two methods for calculating foraging intensity (first-passage time and first-passage time modified to include diving behaviour) determined that, due to extended surface intervals where individuals did not travel, inclusion of diving behaviour into foraging analyses was important for this species. Foraging intensity 'hot spots' were found to exist in a mosaic of patches within the Bass Basin, primarily to the south-west of the colony. However, the composition of benthic habitat being targeted remains unclear. When increasing their foraging intensity, individuals tended to perform dives around 148 s or greater, with descent/ascent rates of approximately 1.9 m•s-1 or greater and reduced postdive durations. This suggests individuals were maximising their time within the benthic foraging zone. Furthermore, individuals increased tortuosity and decreased travel speeds while at the surface to maximise their time within a foraging location. These results suggest Australian fur seals will modify both surface movements and diving behaviour to maximise their time within a foraging patch.
Project description:Detailed information acquired using tracking technology has the potential to provide accurate pictures of the types of movements and behaviors performed by animals. To date, such data have not been widely exploited to provide inferred information about the foraging habitat. We collected data using multiple sensors (GPS, time depth recorders, and accelerometers) from two species of diving seabirds, razorbills (Alca torda, N = 5, from Fair Isle, UK) and common guillemots (Uria aalge, N = 2 from Fair Isle and N = 2 from Colonsay, UK). We used a clustering algorithm to identify pursuit and catching events and the time spent pursuing and catching underwater, which we then used as indicators for inferring prey encounters throughout the water column and responses to changes in prey availability of the areas visited at two levels: individual dives and groups of dives. For each individual dive (N = 661 for guillemots, 6214 for razorbills), we modeled the number of pursuit and catching events, in relation to dive depth, duration, and type of dive performed (benthic vs. pelagic). For groups of dives (N = 58 for guillemots, 156 for razorbills), we modeled the total time spent pursuing and catching in relation to time spent underwater. Razorbills performed only pelagic dives, most likely exploiting prey available at shallow depths as indicated by the vertical distribution of pursuit and catching events. In contrast, guillemots were more flexible in their behavior, switching between benthic and pelagic dives. Capture attempt rates indicated that they were exploiting deep prey aggregations. The study highlights how novel analysis of movement data can give new insights into how animals exploit food patches, offering a unique opportunity to comprehend the behavioral ecology behind different movement patterns and understand how animals might respond to changes in prey distributions.
Project description:Predicting how climatic variations will affect marine predator populations relies on our ability to assess foraging success, but evaluating foraging success in a marine predator at sea is particularly difficult. Dive metrics are commonly available for marine mammals, diving birds and some species of fish. Bottom duration or dive duration are usually used as proxies for foraging success. However, few studies have tried to validate these assumptions and identify the set of behavioral variables that best predict foraging success at a given time scale. The objective of this study was to assess if foraging success in Antarctic fur seals could be accurately predicted from dive parameters only, at different temporal scales. For this study, 11 individuals were equipped with either Hall sensors or accelerometers to record dive profiles and detect mouth-opening events, which were considered prey capture attempts. The number of prey capture attempts was best predicted by descent and ascent rates at the dive scale; bottom duration and descent rates at 30-min, 1-h, and 2-h scales; and ascent rates and maximum dive depths at the all-night scale. Model performances increased with temporal scales, but rank and sign of the factors varied according to the time scale considered, suggesting that behavioral adjustment in response to prey distribution could occur at certain scales only. The models predicted the foraging intensity of new individuals with good accuracy despite high inter-individual differences. Dive metrics that predict foraging success depend on the species and the scale considered, as verified by the literature and this study. The methodology used in our study is easy to implement, enables an assessment of model performance, and could be applied to any other marine predator.
Project description:Traditional forms of marine wildlife research are often restricted to coarse telemetry or surface-based observations, limiting information on fine-scale behaviours such as predator-prey events and interactions with habitat features. We use contemporary animal-attached cameras with motion sensing dataloggers, to reveal novel behaviours by white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, within areas of kelp forest in South Africa. All white sharks tagged in this study spent time adjacent to kelp forests, with several moving throughout densely kelp-covered areas, navigating through channels and pushing directly through stipes and fronds. We found that activity and turning rates significantly increased within kelp forest. Over 28 h of video data revealed that white shark encounters with Cape fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus, occurred exclusively within kelp forests, with seals displaying predator evasion behaviour during those encounters. Uniquely, we reveal the use of kelp forest habitat by white sharks, previously assumed inaccessible to these large predators.