Seasonal foraging behavior of Weddell seals relation to oceanographic environmental conditions in the Ross Sea, Antarctica
Abstract. Understanding the foraging behavior of marine animals is crucial for assessing their ecological significance and responses to environmental changes. In the context of Antarctica, marine animals face rapid and profound environmental changes related with global warming. However, our understanding of their responses remains limited owing to the formidable challenges inherent in conducting observations, particularly during the harsh austral winter months. In this study, we investigated the influence of changes in seawater properties and light conditions on the seasonal foraging behavior of Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. We affixed 35 Weddell seals with CTD tags to record their locations and dive profiles, including depth, head acceleration, temperature, and salinity. We found that seals foraged more frequently in modified shelf water and ice shelf water compared to Antarctic surface water. This preference could be connected to greater food availability. Additionally, seals also dove to greater depths and displayed increased activity in capturing prey during daylight hours. This behavior may correspond to the diel vertical migration of pelagic prey in response to varying light conditions. Our findings suggest that Weddell seals have adjusted their foraging behaviors to adapt to spatial and temporal changes in oceanographic conditions. This highlights the importance of extrinsic factors in estimating their seasonal foraging behavior.
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