Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)

Drivers and constraints on offshore foraging in harbour seals

Central place foragers are expected to offset travel costs between a central place and foraging areas by targeting productive feeding zones. Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) make multi-day foraging trips away from coastal haul-out sites presumably to target rich food resources, but periodic track points from telemetry tags may be insufficient to infer reliably where, and how often, foraging takes place. To study foraging behaviour during offshore trips, and assess what factors limit trip duration, we equipped harbour seals in the German Wadden Sea with high-resolution multi-sensor bio-logging tags, recording 12 offshore trips from 8 seals. Using acceleration transients as a proxy for prey capture attempts, we found that foraging rates during travel to and from offshore sites were comparable to offshore rates. Offshore foraging trips may, therefore, reflect avoidance of intra-specific competition rather than presence of offshore foraging hotspots. Time spent resting increased by approx. 37 min/day during trips suggesting that a resting deficit rather than patch depletion may influence trip length. Foraging rates were only weakly correlated with surface movement patterns highlighting the value of integrating multi-sensor data from on-animal bio-logging tags (GPS, depth, accelerometers and magnetometers) to infer behaviour and habitat use.

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