MEPS 325:281-293 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps325281

Seasonal availability of abundant, energy-rich prey influences the abundance and diet of a marine predator, the Steller sea lion Eumetopias jubatus

Jamie N. Womble1,2,*, Michael F. Sigler2

1School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11120 Glacier Highway, Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA
2National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Auke Bay Laboratory, 11305 Glacier Highway, Juneau, Alaska 99801-8626, USA

ABSTRACT: Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus are central-place foragers that forage in the marine environment while using terrestrial sites to rest and care for young. Some terrestrial sites are used seasonally; however, the reasons for doing so are not fully understood. We addressed the hypothesis that seasonal availability of prey influences seasonal abundance and diet of sea lions. We quantified monthly prey availability and sea lion abundance and quarterly diet composition at Benjamin Island in SE Alaska (2001–2004). Large numbers of sea lions occupied Benjamin Island during the non-breeding season from October to April when Pacific herring Clupea pallasii biomass was highest. Herring was the most common species in sea lion diet (frequency of occurrence [FO] = 90%) and comprised over 81% of the available pelagic prey biomass and 96% of the energy encountered during pelagic surveys. Walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma accounted for 19% of the available prey biomass but was only slightly less common in sea lion diet (FO = 88%) than herring. Herring biomass was correlated with the number of sea lions; in contrast, there was no relationship between pollock biomass and number of sea lions. Several fish species were found in nearshore areas, but were uncommon in sea lion diet. Sea lions consumed the available pelagic prey but little of the available nearshore prey. The FO of herring and pollock in sea lion diet did not differ significantly between seasons; however, the FO of other seasonal prey species differed between seasons. Seasonal occupation of Benjamin Island by sea lions is influenced by seasonally available, densely aggregated, energy-rich prey.


KEY WORDS: Seasonal · Prey availability · Abundance · Diet · Energy · Eumetopias jubatus · Clupea pallasii · Theragra chalcogramma


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