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Physical changes recorded by a deep diving seal on the Patagonian slope drive large ecological changes
The Patagonian slope is the region where Subantarctic waters and bathymetry give raise to physical and ecological processes that support a rich biodiversity and a large-scale industrial fisheries. Unique among the species that depend on this region is the deep diving southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina. We report here on changes in the foraging behavior of a female seal explained by the combined effect of a cold and high salinity water mass and a decrease in surface chlorophyll-a concentration. Behavioral and oceanographic data from about 5000 profiles of temperature, conductivity, pressure, light and prey encounters were collected within an area ranging 59.5–61°W and 46–47.5°S, at depths of 300–700 m, on the Patagonian slope, during November–December 2018. A decrease in temperature (0.15 °C) and an increase in salinity (0.03) was found below the mixed layer, during December. Light data revealed a significant increase of irradiance in December (almost reaching the ocean bottom) associated with a decrease of chlorophyll-a in the upper levels. Concomitantly, the seal had a different diving behavior in December, foraging near the surface at night and close to the bottom during daylight hours. Also, the seal doubled the prey capture attempts in December compared to November. This study reveals the importance of ocean physical properties on seal's diving and foraging behavior, and how this changes, although small, can impact on seals diet and body composition during their post-breeding trips.
Publication titleJournal of Marine Systems
Department/SchoolInstitute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
PublisherElsevier Science Bv
Place of publicationPo Box 211, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1000 Ae
Rights statement© 2021 Elsevier B.V.