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Lakewood, WA, United States

Peterson S.H.,Western Washington University | Peterson S.H.,University of California at Santa Cruz | Lance M.M.,Wildlife Science Program | Jeffries S.J.,Wildlife Science Program | Acevedo-Gutierrez A.,Western Washington University

Background: Worldwide, adult harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) typically limit their movements and activity to <50 km from their primary haul-out site. As a result, the ecological impact of harbor seals is viewed as limited to relatively small spatial scales. Harbor seals in the Pacific Northwest are believed to remain <30 km from their primary haul-out site, one of several contributing factors to the current stock designation. However, movement patterns within the region are not well understood because previous studies have used radio-telemetry, which has range limitations. Our objective was to use satellite-telemetry to determine the regional spatial scale of movements. Methodology/Principal Findings: Satellite tags were deployed on 20 adult seals (n=16 males and 4 females) from two rocky reefs and a mudflat-bay during April-May 2007. Standard filtering algorithms were used to remove outliers, resulting in an average (± SD) of 693 (±377) locations per seal over 110 (±32) days. A particle filter was implemented to interpolate locations temporally and decrease erroneous locations on land. Minimum over-water distances were calculated between filtered locations and each seal's capture site to show movement of seals over time relative to their capture site, and we estimated utilization distributions from kernel density analysis to reflect spatial use. Eight males moved >100 km from their capture site at least once, two of which traveled round trip to and from the Pacific coast, a total distance >400 km. Disjunct spatial use patterns observed provide new insight into general harbor seal behavior. Conclusions/Significance: Long-distance movements and disjunct spatial use of adult harbor seals have not been reported for the study region and are rare worldwide in such a large proportion of tagged individuals. Thus, the ecological influence of individual seals may reach farther than previously assumed. © 2012 Peterson et al. Source

Lance M.M.,Wildlife Science Program | Chang W.-Y.,National Science Foundation | Jeffries S.J.,Wildlife Science Program | Pearson S.F.,Wildlife Research Program | Acevedo-Gutierrez A.,Western Washington University
Marine Ecology Progress Series

Recovery of severely declining resource stocks often leads to enforced quotas or reduced human access to those resources. Predators, however, do not recognize such restrictions and may be attracted to areas of increased prey abundances where human extraction is being limited. Such targeting by predators may reduce or retard the potential recovery of depressed stocks. In the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, USA, marine reserves were implemented to recover depressed fish populations. We examine the role of harbor seals Phoca vitulina in the San Juan Islands food web. We describe the temporal and spatial variability in their diet, emphasizing species for which reserves were established (rockfish Sebastes spp.) and other important de - pressed stocks, including salmon Oncorhynchus spp. and Pacific herring Clupea pallasii. During winter and spring, seals primarily consumed Pacific herring, Pacific sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, northern anchovy Engraulis mordax, and walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma. During summer/fall, adult salmonids composed >50% of the diet and were particularly important in oddnumbered calendar years, when pink salmon O. gorbuscha spawn. Rockfish were not a primary prey species at any time of the year, suggesting that the abundance of alternative prey species may reduce predation pressure and provide a critical buffer to rockfish predation. The importance of considering increased visitation by marine predators to areas where potential prey are enhanced through restrictions on human extractions should be considered when modeling the efficacy of quotas and reduced access areas, such as marine reserves. © Inter-Research 2012. Source

Wilson K.,Western Washington University | Wilson K.,Duke University | Lance M.,Wildlife Science Program | Jeffries S.,Wildlife Science Program | Acevedo-Gutierrez A.,Western Washington University

Understanding the variability of foraging behavior within a population of predators is important for determining their role in the ecosystem and how they may respond to future ecosystem changes. However, such variability has seldom been studied in harbor seals on a fine spatial scale (<30 km). We used a combination of standard and Bayesian generalized linear mixed models to explore how environmental variables influenced the dive behavior of harbor seals. Time-depth recorders were deployed on harbor seals from two haul-out sites in the Salish Sea in 2007 (n = 18) and 2008 (n = 11). Three behavioral bout types were classified from six dive types within each bout; however, one of these bout types was related to haul-out activity and was excluded from analyses. Deep foraging bouts (Type I) were the predominant type used throughout the study; however, variation in the use of bout types was observed relative to haul-out site, season, sex, and light (day/night). The proportional use of Type I and Type II (shallow foraging/traveling) bouts differed dramatically between haul-out sites, seasons, sexes, and whether it was day or night; individual variability between seals also contributed to the observed differences. We hypothesize that this variation in dive behavior was related to habitat or prey specialization by seals from different haul-out sites, or individual variability between seals in the study area. The results highlight the potential influence of habitat and specialization on the foraging behavior of harbor seals, and may help explain the variability in diet that is observed between different haul-out site groups in this population. © 2014 Wilson et al. Source

Thomas A.C.,Western Washington University | Thomas A.C.,University of British Columbia | Lance M.M.,Wildlife Science Program | Jeffries S.J.,Wildlife Science Program | And 2 more authors.
Marine Ecology Progress Series

Evidence suggests that Pacific harbor seals Phoca vitulina are likely to alter their foraging behavior in response to seasonal prey pulses. We hypothesized that spawning herring Clupea pallasii aggregations are seasonally important prey for harbor seals, predicting that (1) harbor seal consumption of adult herring would peak during the spawning season, (2) harbor seals would seasonally change their foraging areas to take advantage of spawning herring aggregations, and (3) seal diving behavior would reflect the vertical distribution of herring during the spawning season. The predictions were tested using an analysis of harbor seal prey remains, GPS telemetry, and satellite-linked time/depth recorder data. Contrary to predictions, herring in harbor seal diet was comprised of 74% juveniles and 26% adults in the spawn season, versus 37% juveniles and 63% adults in the post-spawn season. Harbor seal use of documented herring areas was highest during the season when herring did not spawn, and seal diving behavior did not reflect the vertical distribution of herring. The lack of response by harbor seals to spawning herring pulses is likely explained by the low energy density of adult herring during the spawn season, and the availability of profitable alternative prey such as juvenile herring. This study highlights the influence of relative prey profitability on the foraging behavior of harbor seals, and may help to explain why predators do not always respond as predicted to resource pulses. © Inter-Research 2011. Source

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