[MARMAM] New publication: impact of earthquakes on habitat use by sperm whales

Marta Guerra martaguerra87 at gmail.com
Wed Feb 12 15:02:49 PST 2020

Dear MARMAM subscribers,

My colleagues and I would like to announce the publication of an article on
the impact of earthquakes on habitat use by sperm whales, published in Deep
Sea Research Part I. Please see abstract below. The article can be accessed
via https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr.2020.103226 (subscription only), or you
can email me at marta.guerra at otago.ac.nz for a copy of the pdf.
Marta Guerra

'Changes in habitat use by a deep-diving predator in response to a coastal

Marta Guerra, Stephen Dawson, Amandine Sabadel, Elizabeth Slooten, Tamlyn
Somerford, Roger Williams, Lucy Wing, William Rayment.

Abstract: Earthquakes can significantly impact ecosystem function and
survivability of marine organisms, however their effect on marine predators
remains unknown. In November 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake triggered a
‘canyon flushing’ event in the submarine canyon of Kaikōura (New Zealand),
a year-round foraging ground for sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus).
Underwater landslips and turbidity currents caused significant changes to
the seafloor and removed large quantities of benthic biomass from the
canyon. To investigate the potential impact of the earthquake on habitat
use by sperm whales, we used a multi-year dataset to quantify changes in
their behaviour, foraging distribution and use of food resources before and
after the earthquake. The diving locations and behaviour of individual
whales were recorded during summer and winter from January 2014 to January
2018, and samples of sloughed skin were collected for bulk and amino acid
specific stable isotope analyses. While blow rates remained unchanged, the
mean surface interval between dives was 25% longer for about one year after
the earthquake, potentially reflecting increased effort searching for prey.
Stable isotope ratios of sperm whale skin provided no evidence for change
in diet. However, significant changes in the distribution of core foraging
areas indicated shifts in habitat use for at least one year, potentially
driven by changes in the seafloor and prey availability following the
canyon flushing. Overall, our observations suggested that the earthquake
caused alterations in the foraging patterns of sperm whales over a period
of at least 12 months. This was the first study to quantify the impact of
an earthquake on a marine mammal population, providing new insights into
how top predators react and adapt to large-scale events of natural
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