National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2014

Fortuitous encounters between Seagliders and adult female northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) off the Washington (USA) coast: Upper ocean variability and links to top predator behavior

Pelland, N.A., J.T. Sterling, M.A. Lea, N.A. Bond, R.R. Ream, C.M. Lee, and C.C. Eriksen

PLoS ONE, 9(8), e101268, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101268 (2014)

Behavioral responses by top marine predators to oceanographic features such as eddies, river plumes, storms, and coastal topography suggest that biophysical interactions in these zones affect predators' prey, foraging behaviors, and potentially fitness. However, examining these pathways is challenged by the obstacles inherent in obtaining simultaneous observations of surface and subsurface environmental fields and predator behavior. In this study, migratory movements and, in some cases, diving behavior of 40 adult female northern fur seals (NFS; Callorhinus ursinus) were quantified across their range and compared to remotely-sensed environmental data in the Gulf of Alaska and California Current ecosystems, with a particular focus off the coast of Washington State (USA) - a known foraging ground for adult female NFS and where autonomous glider sampling allowed opportunistic comparison of seal behavior to subsurface biophysical measurements. The results show that in these ecosystems, adult female habitat utilization was concentrated near prominent coastal topographic, riverine, or inlet features and within 200 km of the continental shelf break. Seal dive depths, in most ecosystems, were moderated by surface light level (solar or lunar), mirroring known behaviors of diel vertically-migrating prey. However, seal dives differed in the California Current ecosystem due to a shift to more daytime diving concentrated at or below the surface mixed layer base. Seal movement models indicate behavioral responses to season, ecosystem, and surface wind speeds; individuals also responded to mesoscale eddies, jets, and the Columbia River plume. Foraging within small scale surface features is consistent with utilization of the inner coastal transition zone and habitats near coastal capes, which are known eddy and filament generation sites. These results contribute to our knowledge of NFS migratory patterns by demonstrating surface and subsurface behavioral responses to a spatially and temporally dynamic ocean environment, thus reflecting its influence on associated NFS prey species.

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