MEPS - Vol. 309 - Feature article

Northern elephant seal females exhibited dramatic changes in foraging behavior during the 1998 ENSO, including reduced foraging success and residence time in prey patches. Photo: Daniel P. Costa

Crocker DE, Costa DP, Le Boeuf BJ, Webb PM, Houser DS

 

Impact of El Niño on the foraging behavior of female northern elephant seals

 

A severe El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event affects both the Pacific marine environment and terrestrial systems worldwide, making it one of the strongest natural disturbances in ecosystems. Northern elephant seals forage widely over the North Pacific, far from the coastal areas normally associated with immediate ENSO impacts. Crocker et al. examined the foraging behavior of female northern elephant seals during the 1998 ENSO and found dramatic, immediate reductions in foraging success. Females spent longer amounts of time searching for prey patches and less time foraging. Comparisons to other years revealed that females compensate for declines in foraging success by increasing the duration of their pelagic foraging trips.

 

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