Marine Mammal Research Newsletter

MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH NEWSLETTER   |  March 2018 (Issue 17)

This Just In

7 new publications…

Molting bowhead whales, northern fur seal diets, killer whale foraging behavior, measuring stroke rates of sea lions and fur seals, and more …


2018
 
Availability of prey for southern resident killer whales. Technical workshop proceedings. November 15 - 17, 2017.
Trites, A.W. and D.A.S. Rosen (Eds.). 2018.
Marine Mammal Research Unit, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. pp. 64
abstract
This workshop assembled scientists and managers with technical expertise on killer whales and Chinook salmon to identify and evaluate short-term management actions that might increase the immediate abundance and accessibility of Chinook salmon for southern resident killer whales, given the current size of Chinook salmon stocks. The workshop did not consider ways of producing more Chinook salmon (which will be the subject of a subsequent workshop), but rather considered ways of making more of the fish that are presently in the ocean available to southern resident killer whales (SRKW). Workshop participants presented and discussed technical information on the prey requirements of SRKW, the availability of Chinook salmon, and current protections for SRKW. Participants then split into four groups with an even distribution of expertise to evaluate three potential non- exclusive Management Actions: 1) Increase the abundance of Chinook for SRKW by reducing coast-wide fishery removals; 2) Increase the abundance of Chinook for SRKW by adjusting fishery removals at specific times and in specific areas of SRWK habitat; and 3) Increase the accessibility of Chinook by decreasing underwater noise and the physical presence of vessels where SRKW forage.

keywords     killer whales, southern resident, prey, availability, abundance, accessibility, noise, disturbance, fishing, commercial, recreational, Chinook, salmon
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2017
 
Evidence of molting and the function of rock-nosing behavior in bowhead whales in the eastern Canadian Arctic.
Fortune, S. M. E., W. R. Koski, J. W. Higdon, A. W. Trites, M. F. Baumgartner and S. H. Ferguson. 2017.
PLoS ONE, pages: e0186156 Vol 12(1)
abstract
Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) have a nearly circumpolar distribution, and occasionally occupy warmer shallow coastal areas during summertime that may facilitate molting. However, relatively little is known about the occurrence of molting and associated behaviors in bowhead whales. We opportunistically observed whales in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut, Canada with skin irregularities consistent with molting during August 2014, and collected a skin sample from a biopsied whale that revealed loose epidermis and sloughing. During August 2016, we flew a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) over whales to take video and still images to: 1) determine unique individuals; 2) estimate the proportion of the body of unique individuals that exhibited sloughing skin; 3) determine the presence or absence of superficial lines representative of rock-rubbing behavior; and 4) measure body lengths to infer age-class. The still images revealed that all individuals (n = 81 whales) were sloughing skin, and that nearly 40% of them had mottled skin over more than two-thirds of their bodies. The video images captured bowhead whales rubbing on large rocks in shallow, coastal areas --likely to facilitate molting. Molting and rock rubbing appears to be pervasive during late summer for whales in the eastern Canadian Arctic.
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2017
 
Combining hard-part and DNA analyses in scats with biologging and stable isotopes can reveal different diet compositions and feeding strategies within a population.
Jeanniard-du-Dot, T., A. C. Thomas, Y. Cherel, A. W. Trites and C. Guinet. 2017.
Marine Ecology Progress Series 584:1-16.
abstract
Accurately estimating predators' diets at relevant spatial and temporal scales is key to understanding animals' energetics and fitness, particularly in populations whose decline might be related to their diet such as northern fur seals Callorhinus ursinus. Our goals were to improve the accuracy of diet estimates and extend understanding of feeding ecology by combining 2 scat-based methods of diet determination (hard-part identification and DNA-metabarcoding) with stable isotope measurements and individual behavioural data. We collected 98 scats on a northern fur seal breeding colony. We also tracked 20 females with biologgers, and took blood samples to determine δ13C and δ15N values as proxies for seal foraging habitat and diet. Results show that diet composition from hard-parts analysis corresponded well with DNA results, with DNA yielding a greater diversity of prey species at a finer taxonomic level. Overall, scat-based methods showed that seals mostly fed on neritic shelf-associated prey. Cluster analyses of combined hard-parts and DNA results however identified 2 diet groups, one mostly neritic and the other mostly pelagic. Stable isotopes and behavioural data revealed that 40% of seals fed in oceanic waters on pelagic prey. This is more than indicated by scat-based analyses, which are likely biased towards animals foraging closest to the colony and underestimate some dietary specializations within the population. Consequently, the combination of multiple methods for diet identification with at-sea tracking of individuals can help identify and quantify specialist groups within a population and provide a wider spatial and temporal ecological context for dietary analysis.
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2017
 
Proxies of energy expenditure for marine mammals: an experimental test of the time trap.
Ladds, M. A., D. A. S. Rosen, D. J. Slip and R. G. Harcourt. 2017.
Scientific Reports 7:11815
abstract
Direct measures of energy expenditure are difficult to obtain in marine mammals, and accelerometry may be a useful proxy. Recently its utility has been questioned as some analyses derived their measure of activity level by calculating the sum of accelerometry-based values and then comparing this summation to summed (total) energy expenditure (the so-called 'time trap'). To test this hypothesis, we measured oxygen consumption of captive fur seals and sea lions wearing accelerometers during submerged swimming and calculated total and rate of energy expenditure. We compared these values with two potential proxies of energy expenditure derived from accelerometry data: flipper strokes and dynamic body acceleration (DBA). Total number of strokes, total DBA, and submergence time all predicted total oxygen consumption (sVO2 ml kg−1). However, both total DBA and total number of strokes were correlated with submergence time. Neither stroke rate nor mean DBA could predict the rate of oxygen consumption (sV.O2 ml min−1 kg−1). The relationship of total DBA and total strokes with total oxygen consumption is apparently a result of introducing a constant (time) into both sides of the relationship. This experimental evidence supports the conclusion that proxies derived from accelerometers cannot estimate the energy expenditure of marine mammals.

keywords     energy expenditure, accelerometers, Steller sea lions
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2017
 
On the utility of accelerometers to predict stroke rate using captive fur seals and sea lions.
Ladds, M. A., D. A. S. Rosen, D. J. Slip and R. G. Harcourt. 2017.
Biology Open 6:1396-1400.
abstract
Energy expenditure of free-living fur seals and sea lions is difficult to measure directly, but may be indirectly derived from flipper stroke rate. We filmed 10 captive otariids swimming with accelerometers either attached to a harness (Daily Diary: sampling frequency 32Hz, N = 4) or taped to the fur (G6a+: 25Hz, N = 6). We used down sampling to derive four recording rates from each accelerometer (Daily Diary: 32, 16, 8, 4Hz; G6a+: 25, 20, 10, 5Hz). For each of these sampling frequencies we derived 20 combinations of two parameters (RMW - the window size used to calculate the running mean, and m – the minimum number of points smaller than the local maxima used to detect a peak), from the dynamic acceleration of x, z and x+z, to estimate stroke rate from the accelerometers. These estimates differed by up to ~20% in comparison to the actual number of foreflipper strokes counted from videos. RMW had little effect on the overall differences, nor did the choice of axis used to make the calculations (x, z or x+z), though the variability was reduced when using x+z. The best m varied depending on the axis used and the sampling frequency, where a larger m was needed for higher sampling frequencies. This study demonstrates that when parameters are appropriately tuned, accelerometers are a simple yet valid tool for estimating the stroke rates of swimming otariids.

keywords     otariid, swim mechanics, stroke rate, accelerometer, energetics, biologger
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2017
 
Marine mammals exploring the oceans pole to pole: a review of the MEOP consortium.
Treasure, A. M., F. Roquet, I. J. Ansorge, M. N. Bester, L. Boehme, H. Bornemann, J.-B. Charrassin, D. Chevallier, D. P. Costa, M. A. Fedak, C. Guinet, M. O. Hammill, R. G. Harcourt, M. A. Hindell, K. M. Kovacs, M.-A. Lea, P. Lovell, A. D. Lowther, C. Lydersen, T. McIntyre, C. R. McMahon, M. M. C. Muelbert, K. Nicholls, B. Picard, G. Reverdin, A. W. Trites, G. D. Williams and P.J. Nico de Bruyn. 2017.
Oceanography 30:132-138.
abstract
Polar oceans are poorly monitored despite the important role they play in regulating Earth's climate system. Marine mammals equipped with biologging devices are now being used to fill the data gaps in these logistically difficult to sample regions. Since 2002, instrumented animals have been generating exceptionally large data sets of oceanographic CTD casts (>500,000 profiles), which are now freely available to the scientific community through the MEOP data portal (http://meop.net). MEOP (Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole) is a consortium of international researchers dedicated to sharing animal-derived data and knowledge about the polar oceans. Collectively, MEOP demonstrates the power and cost-effectiveness of using marine mammals as data-collection platforms that can dramatically improve the ocean observing system for biological and physical oceanographers. Here, we review the MEOP program and database to bring it to the attention of the international community.
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2017
 
Fine-scale foraging movements by fish-eating killer whales (Orcinus orca) relate to the vertical distributions and escape responses of salmonid prey (Oncorhynchus spp.).
Wright, B. M., J. K. B. Ford, G. M. Ellis, V. B. Deecke, A. D. Shapiro, B. C. Battaile and A. W. Trites. 2017.
Movement Ecology 5:1-18.
abstract
Background: We sought to quantitatively describe the fine-scale foraging behavior of northern resident killer whales (Orcinus orcas), a population of fish-eating killer whales that feeds almost exclusively on Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.). To reconstruct the underwater movements of these specialist predators, we deployed 34 biologging Dtags on 32 individuals and collected high-resolution, three-dimensional accelerometry and acoustic data. We used the resulting dive paths to compare killer whale foraging behavior to the distributions of different salmonid prey species. Understanding the foraging movements of these threatened predators is important from a conservation standpoint, since prey availability has been identified as a limiting factor in their population dynamics and recovery. Results: Three-dimensional dive tracks indicated that foraging (N = 701) and non-foraging dives (N = 10,618) were kinematically distinct (Wilks

keywords     Foraging, Movement, Diving behavior, Biologging, Dtag, Accelerometry, Killer whale, Orcinus orca, Pacific salmon
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