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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 554:241-256 (2016)  -  DOI:

Individual variation in seasonal movements and foraging strategies of a land-locked, ice-breeding pinniped

Lilia Dmitrieva1,*, Mart Jüssi2, Ivar Jüssi2, Yesbol Kasymbekov3, Mikhail Verevkin4, Mirgaliy Baimukanov3, Susan Wilson5, Simon J. Goodman1,*

1School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
2Pro Mare MTÜ, Saula, Kose, Harjumaa 75101, Estonia
3Institute of Hydrobiology & Ecology, Karasaysky Raion, Almaty 040916, Kazakhstan
4St. Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab.7/9, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia
5Tara Seal Research, Killyleagh, Co. Down BT30 9QN, UK

ABSTRACT: Marine mammal satellite telemetry studies can provide important tests of movement and foraging theory. Here we present the first satellite tracking study of Caspian seals Pusa caspica, an endangered, ice-breeding phocid seal, endemic to the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea is one of the most variable habitats inhabited by any pinniped species, and lacks competing large piscivores. Under such conditions foraging theory predicts that individual variation in foraging strategy may develop to reduce intra-species competition. We deployed 75 Argos satellite tags from 2009 to 2012 on adult seals of both sexes, and used state-space modelling to describe movement, and behavioural states. During winter in all years most individuals were mobile within the icepack, making repeated trips into open water outside the ice field, with only brief stationary periods that may have been related to breeding activity. During summer 2011, 60% of tagged animals migrated into the mid and southern Caspian, while the remainder spent the ice-free season in the north. Summer foraging locations were not restricted by proximity to haul-out sites, with animals spending more than 6 months at sea. Maximum dive depths exceeded 200 m, and maximum duration was greater than 20 min, but 80% of dives were shallower than 15 m and shorter than 5 min. Hierarchical cluster analysis identified 3 distinct groups of summer dive behaviour, comprising shallow, intermediate and deep divers, which were also spatially exclusive, suggesting potential niche partitioning and individual specialisation on prey or habitat types. The results can contribute to assessment of impacts from anthropogenic activities and to designation of protected areas encompassing critical habitats.

KEY WORDS: Caspian seal · Foraging ecology · Migration · Habitat specialisation · Diving behaviour · Kazakhstan · Russian Federation

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Cite this article as: Dmitrieva L, Jüssi M, Jüssi I, Kasymbekov Y and others (2016) Individual variation in seasonal movements and foraging strategies of a land-locked, ice-breeding pinniped. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 554:241-256.

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