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Habitat preferences, foraging behaviour and bycatch risk among breeding sooty shearwaters Ardenna grisea in the Southwest Atlantic

Anne-Sophie Bonnet-Lebrun*, Paulo Catry, T. J. Clark, Letizia Campioni, Amanda Kuepfer, Megan Tierny, Elizabeth Kilbride, Ewan D. Wakefield

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Pelagic seabirds are important components of many marine ecosystems. The most abundant species are medium/small sized petrels (<1100g) yet the sub-mesoscale (<10 km) distribution, habitat use and foraging behaviour of this group are not well understood. Sooty shearwaters (Ardenna grisea) are among the world’s most numerous. The majority inhabit the Pacific, where they have declined, partly due to bycatch and other anthropogenic impacts, but they are increasing in the Atlantic. To evaluate the sub-mesoscale habitat preferences (i.e. the disproportionality between habitat use and availability), diving behaviour and bycatch risk of Atlantic breeders, we tracked sooty shearwaters from the Falkland Islands during late incubation and early chick-rearing with GPS loggers (n = 20), geolocators (n = 10) and Time-Depth Recorders (n = 10). These birds foraged exclusively in neritic and shelf-break waters, principally over the Burdwood Bank, ~ 350 km from their colony. Like New Zealand breeders, they dived mostly during daylight, especially at dawn and dusk, consistent with the exploitation of vertically migrating prey. However, Falkland birds made shorter foraging trips, shallower dives, and did not forage in oceanic waters. Their overlap with fisheries was low and they foraged at shallower depths than those targeted by trawlers, the most frequent fishing vessels encountered, indicating that bycatch risk was low during late incubation/early chick-rearing. Although our results should be treated with caution, they indicate that Atlantic and Pacific sooty shearwaters may experience markedly differing pressures at sea. Comparative study between these populations, e.g. combining biologging and demography, is therefore warrented.