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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 574:211-226 (2017)  -  DOI:

Movements and foraging habitats of great shearwaters Puffinus gravis in the Gulf of Maine

Kevin D. Powers1,*, David N. Wiley1, Andrew J. Allyn2,3, Linda J. Welch4, Robert A. Ronconi5,6

1National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, 175 Edward Foster Road, Scituate, Massachusetts 02066, USA
2University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002, USA
3Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Portland, Maine 04101, USA
4United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Milbridge, Maine 04658, USA
5Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada
6Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, 24 Route 776, Grand Manan, NB E5G 1A1, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In the western North Atlantic, great shearwaters Puffinus gravis are among the most abundant seabirds during summer months, yet little is known about their movement ecology and habitat requirements in this ecosystem. We deployed platform terminal transmitters on shearwaters captured in the Gulf of Maine and used a Bayesian switching state-space model to describe bird movements, behavior, foraging areas, migration timing, and how such habitat use and movements might be related to age. From July to November, great shearwaters traveled an average of 515 km per week and spent most of their time foraging around the rim of the gulf, primarily using shallower waters (<100 m), where bathymetry was more steeply sloped. A generalized additive model fit to these foraging locations data revealed correlations between foraging habitat use and depth, chlorophyll a and sea surface temperature, but not slope. Interestingly, these relationships were not consistent across birds from different tagging sites, suggesting a flexible foraging strategy based on local habitat conditions and high mobility. Movements associated with the shearwaters’ southern migration began in August and continued through much of September, with birds leaving the study area via a pathway south of Nova Scotia, Canada. Nape plumage analysis showed most of the captured birds in the Gulf of Maine were young birds; 89% were <3 yr old. These results suggest that modeling shearwater location information using state-space models can be useful in identifying discrete, high-use habitat patches as part of efforts to reduce fishery bycatch.

KEY WORDS: Great shearwater · Gulf of Maine · Foraging areas · Movements · Age composition · Habitat use · State-space models

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Cite this article as: Powers KD, Wiley DN, Allyn AJ, Welch LJ, Ronconi RA (2017) Movements and foraging habitats of great shearwaters Puffinus gravis in the Gulf of Maine. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 574:211-226.

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