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Identifying marine hotspots and oceanographic features by monitoring the top predators of Montague Island

Hotspots for Marine Predators

Montague Island lies in a highly dynamic and productive region, supports breeding populations of New Zealand and Australian Fur-seal, Little Penguins and ocean birds, and is surrounded by the Bateman’s Bay Marine Park. We are studying how ocean and climate processes influence foraging areas and success to guide human activities in the area. We have been tracking Little Penguins and Fur Seals from Montague Island each year using a) GPS and conductivity, depth and temperature trackers to determine the oceanographic features of foraging locations and b) accelerometers to determine their activity when they are at sea. The behaviours that generate a specific accelerometry signal were defined by trials at Taronga when they were feeding, prey handling and swimming. Records of wild penguin tracks were then coded using the model developed at Taronga and used to determine prey capture rates and locations for animals in the wild. The sea surface temperature analysis shows that Little Penguins are moving to the cooler, more productive waters to feed, and the warm incursions of lower nutrient water from the Eastern Australian Current are avoided. Our research demonstrates the link between food availability and ocean processes and will be important in predicting the impact of ocean warming and competition with fisheries on the Little Penguin and Fur Seal. 

Project Partners:

Taronga: Dr David Slip
Macquarie University: Prof Rob Harcourt, Gemma Carroll (PhD Student)
NSW Office of Environment and Heritage: Preston Cope


Carroll G, Slip D, Jonsen I, Harcourt R. 2014 Supervised accelerometry analysis can identify prey capture by penguins at sea. J Exp Biol. 217:4295-302


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