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Aquatic Biology

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AB 21:167-181 (2014)  -  DOI:

Harbour seal Phoca vitulina movement patterns in the high-Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway

Marie-Anne Blanchet1,2,*, Christian Lydersen1, Rolf A. Ims1,2, Andrew D. Lowther1, Kit M. Kovacs1

1Norwegian Polar Institute, Framsentret, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
2Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT-Arctic University of Norway, 9037 Tromsø, Norway
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Harbour seals Phoca vitulina are mainly considered a temperate species, but the world’s northernmost population resides year-round in the high-Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. In this study we document post-moulting at-sea movements of 30 individuals from this population using satellite relay data loggers deployed in the autumns of 2009 and 2010. All of the seals showed a strong preference for the west side of the archipelago, staying mainly in coastal areas (<50 km over the continental shelf), but seldom entering the fjord systems. Distance swam per day, individual home range size, and trip duration increased throughout the winter to a peak that was reached when drifting sea ice in the region was at a maximum. No effect of age was observed, but sex differences were significant; males occupied larger areas than females. Habitat selection was quantified by modelling time spent in area (TSA) as a function of environmental parameters using Cox proportional hazard models (CPH). The harbour seals avoided heavy ice concentrations (>50%) but did occupy areas with substantial amounts of drifting ice (5 to 25%). Shallow water (<100 m) and steep bathymetric slopes were preferred to deep water or flat-bottom areas. Harbour seal distribution in Svalbard is largely restricted to coastal areas that are heavily influenced by Atlantic water brought northward in the West Spitsbergen Current; both the temperature and influx of this water type are predicted to increase in the future. It is thus likely that environmental conditions in Svalbard in the future will become more favourable for harbour seals.

KEY WORDS: Climate change · Sea ice · Habitat use · Time spent in area · Cox proportional hazard models · Satellite telemetry

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Cite this article as: Blanchet MA, Lydersen C, Ims RA, Lowther AD, Kovacs KM (2014) Harbour seal Phoca vitulina movement patterns in the high-Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. Aquat Biol 21:167-181.

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