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Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 88-89 (2013) 14-22
Identifying foraging events in deep diving southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina, using acceleration data loggers
S.L. Gallon1, F. Bailleul2, Jean-Benoît Charrassin3, Christophe Guinet2, Charles-André Bost2, Yves Handrich4, M. Hindell1

Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) range widely throughout the Southern Ocean and are associated with important habitats (e.g., ice edges, shelf) where they accumulate energy to fuel their reproductive efforts on land. Knowledge of the fine scale foraging behaviour used to garner this energy, however, is limited. For the first time, acceleration loggers were deployed on three adult southern elephant seals during a translocation study at Kerguelen Island. The aims of the study were to (1) identify prey capture attempts using 2-D accelerometer tags deployed on the head of southern elephant seals, (2) compare the number of foraging dives identified by simple dive depth profiles and accelerometer profiles and (3) compare dive characteristics between prey encounter and non-prey encounter dives. The 2-D loggers recorded depth every second, surge and heave accelerations at 8 or 16 Hz and were carried for periods between 23 and 121 h. Rapid head movements were interpreted to be associated with prey encounter events. Acceleration data detected possible prey encounter events in 39-52% of dives whilst 67-80% of dives were classified as foraging dives when using dive depth profiles alone. Prey encounters occurred in successive dives during days and nights and lasted between tenths of a second and 7.6 min. Binomial linear mixed effect models showed that seals were diving significantly deeper and increased both descent rate and bottom duration when encountering prey. Dive duration, however, did not significantly increase during dives with prey encounters. These results are in accordance with optimal foraging theory, which predicts that deep divers should increase both their transit rates and the time spent at depth when a profitable prey patch is encountered. These findings indicate that this technique is promising as it more accurately detects possible prey encounter events compared with dive depth profiles alone and thus provides a better understanding of seal foraging strategies.
1 :  IMAS
2 :  CEBC - Centre d'études biologiques de Chizé
3 :  LOCEAN - Laboratoire d'Océanographie et du Climat : Expérimentations et Approches Numériques
4 :  DEPE-IPHC - Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie
Sciences du Vivant/Biodiversité/Evolution

Sciences de l'environnement
Kerguelen island – predator prey interactions – marine ecology – diving behaviour – accelerometers – mirounga leonina