MEPS 549:275-288 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11677

Riding the tide: use of a moving tidal-stream habitat by harbour porpoises

Steven Benjamins*, Andrew Dale, Nienke van Geel, Ben Wilson

Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Tidal-stream habitats present periodically fast-flowing, turbulent conditions. Evidence suggests that these conditions benefit top predators such as harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena, presumably allowing them to optimise exploitation of prey resources. However, clear demonstration of this relationship is complicated by the fact that strong tidal flows often occur near-simultaneously across a wide area. The Great Race of the Gulf of Corryvreckan (western Scotland, UK) is a jetting tidal system where high-energy conditions persist across a broad range of tidal phases in a localised, moving patch of water. Porpoises can therefore actively enter or avoid this habitat, facilitating study of their usage of adjacent high- and low-energy environments. The distribution of harbour porpoises was studied using passive acoustic porpoise detectors (C‑PODs) deployed on static moorings (~35 d) and on Lagrangian drifters moving freely with the current (up to ~48 h). This dual approach provided complementary perspectives on porpoise presence. C-PODs moored in the path of the Great Race registered a significant increase in detections during the passing of the energetic tidal jet. Encounter durations recorded by drifting C-PODs were longer than those recorded by moored C-PODs, suggesting that porpoises tended to move downstream with the flow rather than remaining stationary relative to the seabed or moving upstream. The energetic, turbulent conditions of the Great Race are clearly attractive to porpoises, and they track its movement with time; however, their structured movements in response to the evolving tidal situation cannot simply be represented as a direct relationship between current speed and porpoise presence.


KEY WORDS: Phocoena phocoena · Tidal-stream habitats · Drifters · Passive acoustics · Distribution


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Cite this article as: Benjamins S, Dale A, van Geel N, Wilson B (2016) Riding the tide: use of a moving tidal-stream habitat by harbour porpoises. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 549:275-288. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11677

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