MEPS 543:21-35 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11579

Predator-prey interactions between harbor seals and migrating steelhead trout smolts revealed by acoustic telemetry

B. A. Berejikian1,*, M. E. Moore1, S. J. Jeffries2

1Environmental and Fisheries Sciences Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, 7305 Beach Drive East, Port Orchard, WA 98366, USA
2Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Changes in the Puget Sound ecosystem over the past 3 decades include increases in harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) abundance and declines in many of their preferred prey species. Harbor seals were outfitted with acoustic telemetry receivers and GPS tags to investigate spatial and temporal interactions with steelhead trout Oncorhynchus mykiss smolts implanted with acoustic transmitters. A total of 6846 tag detections from 44 different steelhead trout smolts (from an initial group of 246 smolts released into 2 rivers) were recorded by the 11 recovered seal-mounted receivers. Central Puget Sound seal receivers detected a greater proportion of smolts surviving to the vicinity of the haul-out locations (29 of 51; 58%) than Admiralty Inlet seal receivers (7 of 50; 14%; p < 0.001). Detection data suggest that none of the tagged smolts were consumed by the 11 monitored seals. Nine smolts were likely consumed by non-tagged harbor seals based partly on detections of stationary tags at the seal capture haul-outs, although tag deposition by other predators cannot be ruled out. Smolts implanted with continuously pinging tags and smolts implanted with tags that were silent for the first 10 d after release were detected in similar proportions leaving Puget Sound (95% CI for the difference between proportions: -0.105 to 0.077) and stationary at harbor seal haul-outs (95% CI: -0.073 to 0.080). This study suggests that harbor seals contribute to mortality of migrating steelhead smolts, and we hypothesize that documented changes in the Puget Sound ecosystem may currently put steelhead smolts at greater risk of predation by harbor seals and possibly other predators.


KEY WORDS: Top-down · Ecosystem shift · Salmonid survival · Pinniped · Migration behavior


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Cite this article as: Berejikian BA, Moore ME, Jeffries SJ (2016) Predator-prey interactions between harbor seals and migrating steelhead trout smolts revealed by acoustic telemetry. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 543:21-35. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11579

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