Understanding the patterns of spatial and temporal distribution in threshold habitats of highly migratory and endangered species is important for understanding their habitat requirements and recovery trends. Herein, we present new data about the distribution of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in neritic waters off the northern coast of Peru: an area that constitutes a transitional path from cold, upwelling waters to warm equatorial waters where the breeding habitat is located. Data was collected during four consecutive austral winter/spring seasons from 2010 to 2013, using whale-watching boats as platforms for research. A total of 1048 whales distributed between 487 groups were sighted. The spatial distribution of humpbacks resembled the characteristic segregation of whale groups according to their size/age class and social context in breeding habitats; mother and calf pairs were present in very shallow waters close to the coast, while dyads, trios or more whales were widely distributed from shallow to moderate depths over the continental shelf break. Sea surface temperatures (range: 18.2–25.9°C) in coastal waters were slightly colder than those closer to the oceanic realm, likely due to the influence of cold upwelled waters from the Humboldt Current system. Our results provide new evidence of the southward extension of the breeding region of humpback whales in the Southeast Pacific. Integrating this information with the knowledge from the rest of the breeding region and foraging grounds would enhance our current understanding of population dynamics and recovery trends of this species.
Distributions of Species
The coastal Runnelstone Reef, off southwest Cornwall (UK), is characterised by complex topography and strong tidal flows and is a known high-density site for harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena); a European protected species. Using a multidisciplinary dataset including: porpoise sightings from a multi-year land-based survey, Acoustic Doppler Current Profiling (ADCP), vertical profiling of water properties and high-resolution bathymetry; we investigate how interactions between tidal flow and topography drive the fine-scale porpoise spatio-temporal distribution at the site. Porpoise sightings were distributed non-uniformly within the survey area with highest sighting density recorded in areas with steep slopes and moderate depths. Greater numbers of sightings were recorded during strong westward (ebbing) tidal flows compared to strong eastward (flooding) flows and slack water periods. ADCP and Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) data identified fine-scale hydrodynamic features, associated with cross-reef tidal flows in the sections of the survey area with the highest recorded densities of porpoises. We observed layered, vertically sheared flows that were susceptible to the generation of turbulence by shear instability. Additionally, the intense, oscillatory near surface currents led to hydraulically controlled flow that transitioned from subcritical to supercritical conditions; indicating that highly turbulent and energetic hydraulic jumps were generated along the eastern and western slopes of the reef. The depression and release of isopycnals in the lee of the reef during cross-reef flows revealed that the flow released lee waves during upslope currents at specific phases of the tidal cycle when the highest sighting rates were recorded. The results of this unique, fine-scale field study provide new insights into specific hydrodynamic features, produced through tidal forcing, that may be important for creating predictable foraging opportunities for porpoises at a local scale. Information on the functional mechanisms linking porpoise distribution to static and dynamic physical habitat variables is extremely valuable to the monitoring and management of the species within the context of European conservation policies and marine renewable energy infrastructure development.
- Migratory marine species (MMS) include many of the world's most charismatic organisms such as marine mammals, seabirds, turtles, sharks, and tuna. Many are now among the most threatened due to the diverse range of pressures they encounter during their extensive movements. This paper shows that 21% of MMS are classified as threatened (i.e. categorized as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable). Sea turtles are the most threatened group (85%), followed by seabirds (27%), cartilaginous fish (26%), marine mammals (15%) and bony fish (11%). Taken together 48% of MMS are threatened, Near Threatened or Data Deficient.
- As well as being threatened they share in common being wide-ranging animals, travelling through the waters of multiple nations as well as in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) during different times of the year. This makes their conservation a challenge, requiring coordinated action by many nations, international organizations, Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and other stakeholders if their populations are to recover to healthy levels and be safeguarded into the future.
- Even though they are wide-ranging, long-term studies reveal considerable site fidelity and well-defined habitats for many species and areas. These sites are prime candidates for enhanced management such as via Marine Protect Area (MPA) designations. However, existing management frameworks do not yet contribute sufficiently to MMS conservation, MPA networks need to be expanded to capture key areas, in many cases through the application of new dynamic management techniques such as time area closures.
- Data on the distribution, abundance, behaviours and threats faced by many MMS are now available. These data should be used to inform the design of effective management regimes, such as MPAs, both within and beyond national jurisdictions. MEAs should ensure a full complement of MMS are included within species listings, and encourage further action to safeguard their populations.
Despite the potential of local knowledge (LK) to provide reliable, quick, and low cost data, its use has been limited due to the lack of understanding of the accuracy and biases. We compared fishers’ spatial LK data and fishery independent data from vessel monitoring systems (VMS) to analyse the concurrence between fisher derived and independently derived information. We examined the effect of sample size and scale on the match, to indicate the most appropriate approaches for future studies. Whilst LK provided a reasonable estimate of fishing extent, the estimated intensity of fishing was less well correlated with the VMS data. The agreement between LK and VMS data was significantly affected by the sample size from which LK knowledge was derived. There can be considerable variation in the accuracy of individual LK samples, therefore the sample size must be maximised to buffer for unreliable LK samples. A finer grid provided a more accurate representation of fishing extent; however, fishing intensity was more accurate when a coarser grid resolution was used. The use of a larger grid could also buffer some of the inaccuracy of a small sample size when determining intensity. Local knowledge can provide data of a similar accuracy to conventional scientific data, which is of particular use in data poor situations, e.g. in developing countries and for inshore fisheries that have no current mandatory VMS recording systems. However, the proportion of the community sampled should be maximised to minimise inaccuracy between individual fishers.
Seascape ecology is an emerging discipline focused on understanding how features of the marine habitat influence the spatial distribution of marine species. However, there is still a gap in the development of concepts and techniques for its application in the marine pelagic realm, where there are no clear boundaries delimitating habitats. Here we demonstrate that pelagic seascape metrics defined as a combination of hydrographic variables and their spatial gradients calculated at an appropriate spatial scale, improve our ability to model pelagic fish distribution. We apply the analysis to study the spawning locations of two tuna species: Atlantic bluefin and bullet tuna. These two species represent a gradient in life history strategies. Bluefin tuna has a large body size and is a long-distant migrant, while bullet tuna has a small body size and lives year-round in coastal waters within the Mediterranean Sea. The results show that the models performance incorporating the proposed seascape metrics increases significantly when compared with models that do not consider these metrics. This improvement is more important for Atlantic bluefin, whose spawning ecology is dependent on the local oceanographic scenario, than it is for bullet tuna, which is less influenced by the hydrographic conditions. Our study advances our understanding of how species perceive their habitat and confirms that the spatial scale at which the seascape metrics provide information is related to the spawning ecology and life history strategy of each species.
As the number of marine protected areas (MPAs) increases globally, so does the need to assess if MPAs are meeting their management goals. Integral to this assessment is usually a long-term biological monitoring program, which can be difficult to develop for large and remote areas that have little available fine-scale habitat and biological data. This is the situation for many MPAs within the newly declared Australian Commonwealth Marine Reserve (CMR) network which covers approximately 3.1 million km2 of continental shelf, slope, and abyssal habitat, much of which is remote and difficult to access. A detailed inventory of the species, types of assemblages present and their spatial distribution within individual MPAs is required prior to developing monitoring programs to measure the impact of management strategies. Here we use a spatially-balanced survey design and non-extractive baited video observations to quantitatively document the fish assemblages within the continental shelf area (a multiple use zone, IUCN VI) of the Flinders Marine Reserve, within the Southeast marine region. We identified distinct demersal fish assemblages, quantified assemblage relationships with environmental gradients (primarily depth and habitat type), and described their spatial distribution across a variety of reef and sediment habitats. Baited videos recorded a range of species from multiple trophic levels, including species of commercial and recreational interest. The majority of species, whilst found commonly along the southern or south-eastern coasts of Australia, are endemic to Australia, highlighting the global significance of this region. Species richness was greater on habitats containing some reef and declined with increasing depth. The trophic breath of species in assemblages was also greater in shallow waters. We discuss the utility of our approach for establishing inventories when little prior knowledge is available and how such an approach may inform future monitoring efforts within the CMR network.
Skates (Rajiformes: Rajoidei) are common mesopredators in marine benthic communities. The spatial associations of individual species and the structure of assemblages are of considerable importance for effective monitoring and management of exploited skate populations. This study investigated the spatial associations of eastern North Pacific (ENP) skates in continental shelf and upper continental slope waters of two regions: central California and the western Gulf of Alaska. Long-term survey data were analyzed using GIS/spatial analysis techniques and regression models to determine distribution (by depth, temperature, and latitude/longitude) and relative abundance of the dominant species in each region. Submersible video data were incorporated for California to facilitate habitat association analysis. We addressed three main questions: 1) Are there regions of differential importance to skates?, 2) Are ENP skate assemblages spatially segregated?, and 3) When skates co-occur, do they differ in size? Skate populations were highly clustered in both regions, on scales of 10s of kilometers; however, high-density regions (i.e., hot spots) were segregated among species. Skate densities and frequencies of occurrence were substantially lower in Alaska as compared to California. Although skates are generally found on soft sediment habitats, Raja rhina exhibited the strongest association with mixed substrates, and R. stellulata catches were greatest on rocky reefs. Size segregation was evident in regions where species overlapped substantially in geographic and depth distribution (e.g., R. rhina and Bathyraja kincaidii off California; B. aleutica and B. interrupta in the Gulf of Alaska). Spatial niche differentiation in skates appears to be more pronounced than previously reported.
Manta rays (Genus Manta) are economically important for fisheries and tourism in Indonesia. These species have been listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List as Vulnerable to extinction; therefore, human exploitation of manta rays must be regulated. A better understanding of the habitat use and movement patterns of manta rays in Indonesia is needed in order to employ effective conservation measures. To gain better insight into the movements of Manta alfredi we used ‘Manta Matcher’, an online database with an integrated automated matching algorithm, to compare photographs from 2,604 encounters of M. alfredi collected by recreational divers and dive operators throughout Indonesia over a nine-year period. This photographic comparison revealed that manta rays migrated between regional sanctuaries such as Nusa Penida, the Gili Islands, and the Komodo National Park (up to 450 km straight-line distance). The areas between these sanctuaries are heavily fished and trafficked by ships, and when manta rays travel through these regions they risk being fished and injured by ship strikes. These long-range manta ray movements suggest connectivity between M. alfredi populations in neighboring islands and raise concerns about the future management of regional populations. It is recommended that a national conservation strategy be developed to protect the remaining populations in the country.
Dispersal during juvenile life stages drives the life-history evolution and dynamics of many marine vertebrate populations. However, the movements of juvenile organisms, too small to track using conventional satellite telemetry devices, remain enigmatic. For sea turtles, this led to the paradigm of the ‘lost years' since hatchlings disperse widely with ocean currents. Recently, advances in the miniaturization of tracking technology have permitted the application of nano-tags to track cryptic organisms. Here, the novel use of acoustic nano-tags on neonate loggerhead turtle hatchlings enabled us to witness first-hand their dispersal and behaviour during their first day at sea. We tracked hatchlings distances of up to 15 km and documented their rapid transport (up to 60 m min−1) with surface current flows passing their natal areas. Tracking was complemented with laboratory observations to monitor swimming behaviours over longer periods which highlighted (i) a positive correlation between swimming activity levels and body size and (ii) population-specific swimming behaviours (e.g. nocturnal inactivity) suggesting local oceanic conditions drive the evolution of innate swimming behaviours. Knowledge of the swimming behaviours of small organisms is crucial to improve the accuracy of ocean model simulations used to predict the fate of these organisms and determine resultant population-level implications into adulthood.
Secondary (i.e., heterotrophic or animal) production is a main pathway of energy flow through an ecosystem as it makes energy available to consumers, including humans. Its estimation can play a valuable role in the examination of linkages between ecosystem functions and services. We found that oil and gas platforms off the coast of California have the highest secondary fish production per unit area of seafloor of any marine habitat that has been studied, about an order of magnitude higher than fish communities from other marine ecosystems. Most previous estimates have come from estuarine environments, generally regarded as one of the most productive ecosystems globally. High rates of fish production on these platforms ultimately result from high levels of recruitment and the subsequent growth of primarily rockfish (genus Sebastes) larvae and pelagic juveniles to the substantial amount of complex hardscape habitat created by the platform structure distributed throughout the water column. The platforms have a high ratio of structural surface area to seafloor surface area, resulting in large amounts of habitat for juvenile and adult demersal fishes over a relatively small footprint of seafloor. Understanding the biological implications of these structures will inform policy related to the decommissioning of existing (e.g., oil and gas platforms) and implementation of emerging (e.g., wind, marine hydrokinetic) energy technologies.