[MARMAM] New publication on Cuvier's beaked whale foraging ecology

Brandon Southall brandon.southall at sea-inc.net
Thu Jan 31 08:30:15 PST 2019


On behalf of my co-authors, I am pleased to announce the publication of a new paper on beaked whale foraging ecology. Using new methods to directly measure prey characteristics at the depths where these deep-diving animals forage, we compare the relative quality of nearby foraging habitats. Substantial spatial heterogeneity was observed and is considered in light of patterns of beaked whale usage of these areas, within which they are commonly exposed to military active sonars.

Southall, B.L., Benoit-Bird, K.J., Moline, M.A., and Moretti, D. (2019). Quantifying deep-sea predator-prey dynamics: implications of biological heterogeneity for beaked whale conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology; https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13334

The full .pdf is available through Open Access at: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1365-2664.13334

The abstract of the article is provided below:

  1.  Prey distribution and density drive predator habitat usage and foraging behaviour. Understanding ecological relationships is necessary for effective management in any environment but can be challenging in certain contexts. While there has been substantial effort to quantify human disturbance for some protected, deep‐diving marine mammals, there are virtually no direct measurements of deep‐sea predator–prey dynamics.
  2.  We used recently developed techniques to measure deep‐water squid abundance, size and distribution within foraging habitat areas of deep‐diving Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) on and around a Navy training range where sonar is often used. Beaked whales are a management priority as both mortal strandings and sublethal disturbance have occurred in association with Navy mid‐frequency sonar.
  3.  We found large differences in prey (squid) abundance over small horizontal distances. Highest squid densities occurred within a commonly utilized foraging area on the range. Much lower prey abundance was measured in adjacent, bathymetrically similar areas less commonly used for foraging.
  4.  By combining prey densities with available behavioural and energetic data, we generate relativistic energetic assessments of foraging habitat quality. This provides a simple, yet quantitative means of evaluating fitness implications of spatial prey heterogeneity and associated consequences of disturbance.
  5.  Synthesis and applications. Given the challenges deep‐diving predators face with limited foraging time in extreme environments, small‐scale prey heterogeneity can have substantial implications for foraging success. Our results provide fine‐scale data within neighbouring beaked whale foraging habitat areas commonly disturbed by sonars. These results have direct management implications and inform population‐level models of disturbance consequences with empirical data on the foraging ecology of these protected species. These issues have been at the heart of recent debate and litigation over spatial management and proposed sonar exclusion zones, which have previously been based entirely on indirect assumptions regarding habitat quality. While limited in temporal and spatial scope, our novel results provide the first direct ecological data to inform such applied decisions. They also highlight broader regulatory implications of different disturbance consequences in nearby areas and demonstrate the value of empirical, biologically based approaches to spatial management of marine ecosystems generally.

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