Post-Breeding Season Migrations of a Top Predator, the Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina richardii), from a Marine Protected Area in Alaska

Womble, Jamie N.; Gende, Scott M.
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are increasingly being used as a conservation tool for highly mobile marine vertebrates and the focus is typically on protecting breeding areas where individuals are aggregated seasonally. Yet movements during the non-breeding season can overlap with threats that may be equally as important to population dynamics. Thus understanding habitat use and movements of species during the non-breeding periods is critical for conservation. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, is one of the largest marine mammal protected areas in the world and has the only enforceable protection measures for reducing disturbance to harbor seals in the United States. Yet harbor seals have declined by up to 11.5%/year from 1992 to 2009. We used satellite-linked transmitters that were attached to 37 female harbor seals to quantify the post-breeding season migrations of seals and the amount of time that seals spent inside vs. outside of the MPA of Glacier Bay. Harbor seals traveled extensively beyond the boundaries of the MPA of Glacier Bay during the post-breeding season, encompassing an area (25,325 km2) significantly larger than that used by seals during the breeding season (8,125 km2). These movements included the longest migration yet recorded for a harbor seal (3,411 km) and extended use (up to 23 days) of pelagic areas by some seals. Although the collective utilization distribution of harbor seals during the post-breeding season was quite expansive, there was a substantial degree of individual variability in the percentage of days that seals spent in the MPA. Nevertheless, harbor seals demonstrated a high degree of inter-annual site fidelity (93%) to Glacier Bay the following breeding season. Our results highlight the importance of understanding the threats that seals may interact with outside of the boundaries of the MPA of Glacier Bay for understanding population dynamics of seals in Glacier Bay.


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