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1.  Linking killer whale survival and prey abundance: food limitation in the oceans' apex predator? 
Biology Letters  2009;6(1):139-142.
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are large predators that occupy the top trophic position in the world's oceans and as such may have important roles in marine ecosystem dynamics. Although the possible top-down effects of killer whale predation on populations of their prey have received much recent attention, little is known of how the abundance of these predators may be limited by bottom-up processes. Here we show, using 25 years of demographic data from two populations of fish-eating killer whales in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, that population trends are driven largely by changes in survival, and that survival rates are strongly correlated with the availability of their principal prey species, Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Our results suggest that, although these killer whales may consume a variety of fish species, they are highly specialized and dependent on this single salmonid species to an extent that it is a limiting factor in their population dynamics. Other ecologically specialized killer whale populations may be similarly constrained to a narrow range of prey species by culturally inherited foraging strategies, and thus are limited in their ability to adapt rapidly to changing prey availability.
PMCID: PMC2817236  PMID: 19755531
killer whale; Orcinus orca; predation
2.  Competing Conservation Objectives for Predators and Prey: Estimating Killer Whale Prey Requirements for Chinook Salmon 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e26738.
Ecosystem-based management (EBM) of marine resources attempts to conserve interacting species. In contrast to single-species fisheries management, EBM aims to identify and resolve conflicting objectives for different species. Such a conflict may be emerging in the northeastern Pacific for southern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) and their primary prey, Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Both species have at-risk conservation status and transboundary (Canada–US) ranges. We modeled individual killer whale prey requirements from feeding and growth records of captive killer whales and morphometric data from historic live-capture fishery and whaling records worldwide. The models, combined with caloric value of salmon, and demographic and diet data for wild killer whales, allow us to predict salmon quantities needed to maintain and recover this killer whale population, which numbered 87 individuals in 2009. Our analyses provide new information on cost of lactation and new parameter estimates for other killer whale populations globally. Prey requirements of southern resident killer whales are difficult to reconcile with fisheries and conservation objectives for Chinook salmon, because the number of fish required is large relative to annual returns and fishery catches. For instance, a U.S. recovery goal (2.3% annual population growth of killer whales over 28 years) implies a 75% increase in energetic requirements. Reducing salmon fisheries may serve as a temporary mitigation measure to allow time for management actions to improve salmon productivity to take effect. As ecosystem-based fishery management becomes more prevalent, trade-offs between conservation objectives for predators and prey will become increasingly necessary. Our approach offers scenarios to compare relative influence of various sources of uncertainty on the resulting consumption estimates to prioritise future research efforts, and a general approach for assessing the extent of conflict between conservation objectives for threatened or protected wildlife where the interaction between affected species can be quantified.
PMCID: PMC3212518  PMID: 22096495
3.  Responses of male sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) to killer whale sounds: implications for anti-predator strategies 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:1579.
Interactions between individuals of different cetacean species are often observed in the wild. Killer whales (Orcinus orca) can be potential predators of many other cetaceans, and the interception of their vocalizations by unintended cetacean receivers may trigger anti-predator behavior that could mediate predator-prey interactions. We explored the anti-predator behaviour of five typically-solitary male sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) in the Norwegian Sea by playing sounds of mammal-feeding killer whales and monitoring behavioural responses using multi-sensor tags. Our results suggest that, rather than taking advantage of their large aerobic capacities to dive away from the perceived predator, sperm whales responded to killer whale playbacks by interrupting their foraging or resting dives and returning to the surface, changing their vocal production, and initiating a surprising degree of social behaviour in these mostly solitary animals. Thus, the interception of predator vocalizations by male sperm whales disrupted functional behaviours and mediated previously unrecognized anti-predator responses.
PMCID: PMC3613802  PMID: 23545484
4.  Causes and consequences of marine mammal population declines in southwest Alaska: a food-web perspective 
Populations of sea otters, seals and sea lions have collapsed across much of southwest Alaska over the past several decades. The sea otter decline set off a trophic cascade in which the coastal marine ecosystem underwent a phase shift from kelp forests to deforested sea urchin barrens. This interaction in turn affected the distribution, abundance and productivity of numerous other species. Ecological consequences of the pinniped declines are largely unknown. Increased predation by transient (marine mammal-eating) killer whales probably caused the sea otter declines and may have caused the pinniped declines as well. Springer et al. proposed that killer whales, which purportedly fed extensively on great whales, expanded their diets to include a higher percentage of sea otters and pinnipeds following a sharp reduction in great whale numbers from post World War II industrial whaling. Critics of this hypothesis claim that great whales are not now and probably never were an important nutritional resource for killer whales. We used demographic/energetic analyses to evaluate whether or not a predator–prey system involving killer whales and the smaller marine mammals would be sustainable without some nutritional contribution from the great whales. Our results indicate that while such a system is possible, it could only exist under a narrow range of extreme conditions and is therefore highly unlikely.
PMCID: PMC2685424  PMID: 19451116
killer whale; sea otter; pinniped; Bering Sea/North Pacific; trophic cascade; indirect effects
5.  Killer whales and whaling: the scavenging hypothesis 
Biology Letters  2005;1(4):415-418.
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) frequently scavenged from the carcasses produced by whalers. This practice became especially prominent with large-scale mechanical whaling in the twentieth century, which provided temporally and spatially clustered floating carcasses associated with loud acoustic signals. The carcasses were often of species of large whale preferred by killer whales but that normally sink beyond their diving range. In the middle years of the twentieth century floating whaled carcasses were much more abundant than those resulting from natural mortality of whales, and we propose that scavenging killer whales multiplied through diet shifts and reproduction. During the 1970s the numbers of available carcasses fell dramatically with the cessation of most whaling (in contrast to a reasonably stable abundance of living whales), and the scavenging killer whales needed an alternative source of nutrition. Diet shifts may have triggered declines in other prey species, potentially affecting ecosystems, as well as increasing direct predation on living whales.
PMCID: PMC1626385  PMID: 17148221
scavenging; whaling; killer whale; ecosystem
6.  Distinguishing the Impacts of Inadequate Prey and Vessel Traffic on an Endangered Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) Population 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e36842.
Managing endangered species often involves evaluating the relative impacts of multiple anthropogenic and ecological pressures. This challenge is particularly formidable for cetaceans, which spend the majority of their time underwater. Noninvasive physiological approaches can be especially informative in this regard. We used a combination of fecal thyroid (T3) and glucocorticoid (GC) hormone measures to assess two threats influencing the endangered southern resident killer whales (SRKW; Orcinus orca) that frequent the inland waters of British Columbia, Canada and Washington, U.S.A. Glucocorticoids increase in response to nutritional and psychological stress, whereas thyroid hormone declines in response to nutritional stress but is unaffected by psychological stress. The inadequate prey hypothesis argues that the killer whales have become prey limited due to reductions of their dominant prey, Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). The vessel impact hypothesis argues that high numbers of vessels in close proximity to the whales cause disturbance via psychological stress and/or impaired foraging ability. The GC and T3 measures supported the inadequate prey hypothesis. In particular, GC concentrations were negatively correlated with short-term changes in prey availability. Whereas, T3 concentrations varied by date and year in a manner that corresponded with more long-term prey availability. Physiological correlations with prey overshadowed any impacts of vessels since GCs were lowest during the peak in vessel abundance, which also coincided with the peak in salmon availability. Our results suggest that identification and recovery of strategic salmon populations in the SRKW diet are important to effectively promote SRKW recovery.
PMCID: PMC3368900  PMID: 22701560
7.  Following a Foraging Fish-Finder: Diel Habitat Use of Blainville's Beaked Whales Revealed by Echolocation 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e28353.
Simultaneous high resolution sampling of predator behavior and habitat characteristics is often difficult to achieve despite its importance in understanding the foraging decisions and habitat use of predators. Here we tap into the biosonar system of Blainville's beaked whales, Mesoplodon densirostris, using sound and orientation recording tags to uncover prey-finding cues available to echolocating predators in the deep-sea. Echolocation sounds indicate where whales search and encounter prey, as well as the altitude of whales above the sea-floor and the density of organisms around them, providing a link between foraging activity and the bio-physical environment. Tagged whales (n = 9) hunted exclusively at depth, investing most of their search time either in the lower part of the deep scattering layer (DSL) or near the sea-floor with little diel change. At least 43% (420/974) of recorded prey-capture attempts were performed within the benthic boundary layer despite a wide range of dive depths, and many dives included both meso- and bentho-pelagic foraging. Blainville's beaked whales only initiate searching when already deep in the descent and encounter prey suitable for capture within 2 min of the start of echolocation, suggesting that these whales are accessing prey in reliable vertical strata. Moreover, these prey resources are sufficiently dense to feed the animals in what is effectively four hours of hunting per day enabling a strategy in which long dives to exploit numerous deep-prey with low nutritional value require protracted recovery periods (average 1.5 h) between dives. This apparent searching efficiency maybe aided by inhabiting steep undersea slopes with access to both the DSL and the sea-floor over small spatial scales. Aggregations of prey in these biotopes are located using biosonar-derived landmarks and represent stable and abundant resources for Blainville's beaked whales in the otherwise food-limited deep-ocean.
PMCID: PMC3233560  PMID: 22163295
8.  Tracking niche variation over millennial timescales in sympatric killer whale lineages 
Niche variation owing to individual differences in ecology has been hypothesized to be an early stage of sympatric speciation. Yet to date, no study has tracked niche width over more than a few generations. In this study, we show the presence of isotopic niche variation over millennial timescales and investigate the evolutionary outcomes. Isotopic ratios were measured from tissue samples of sympatric killer whale Orcinus orca lineages from the North Sea, spanning over 10 000 years. Isotopic ratios spanned a range similar to the difference in isotopic values of two known prey items, herring Clupea harengus and harbour seal Phoca vitulina. Two proxies of the stage of speciation, lineage sorting of mitogenomes and genotypic clustering, were both weak to intermediate indicating that speciation has made little progress. Thus, our study confirms that even with the necessary ecological conditions, i.e. among-individual variation in ecology, it is difficult for sympatric speciation to progress in the face of gene flow. In contrast to some theoretical models, our empirical results suggest that sympatric speciation driven by among-individual differences in ecological niche is a slow process and may not reach completion. We argue that sympatric speciation is constrained in this system owing to the plastic nature of the behavioural traits under selection when hunting either mammals or fish.
PMCID: PMC3757978  PMID: 23945688
speciation; niche; ancient DNA; stable isotopes; Orcinus orca
9.  From the Eye of the Albatrosses: A Bird-Borne Camera Shows an Association between Albatrosses and a Killer Whale in the Southern Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(10):e7322.
Albatrosses fly many hundreds of kilometers across the open ocean to find and feed upon their prey. Despite the growing number of studies concerning their foraging behaviour, relatively little is known about how albatrosses actually locate their prey. Here, we present our results from the first deployments of a combined animal-borne camera and depth data logger on free-ranging black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys). The still images recorded from these cameras showed that some albatrosses actively followed a killer whale (Orcinus orca), possibly to feed on food scraps left by this diving predator. The camera images together with the depth profiles showed that the birds dived only occasionally, but that they actively dived when other birds or the killer whale were present. This association with diving predators or other birds may partially explain how albatrosses find their prey more efficiently in the apparently ‘featureless’ ocean, with a minimal requirement for energetically costly diving or landing activities.
PMCID: PMC2752807  PMID: 19809497
10.  The Impact of Whaling on the Ocean Carbon Cycle: Why Bigger Was Better 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e12444.
Humans have reduced the abundance of many large marine vertebrates, including whales, large fish, and sharks, to only a small percentage of their pre-exploitation levels. Industrial fishing and whaling also tended to preferentially harvest the largest species and largest individuals within a population. We consider the consequences of removing these animals on the ocean's ability to store carbon.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Because body size is critical to our arguments, our analysis focuses on populations of baleen whales. Using reconstructions of pre-whaling and modern abundances, we consider the impact of whaling on the amount of carbon stored in living whales and on the amount of carbon exported to the deep sea by sinking whale carcasses. Populations of large baleen whales now store 9.1×106 tons less carbon than before whaling. Some of the lost storage has been offset by increases in smaller competitors; however, due to the relative metabolic efficiency of larger organisms, a shift toward smaller animals could decrease the total community biomass by 30% or more. Because of their large size and few predators, whales and other large marine vertebrates can efficiently export carbon from the surface waters to the deep sea. We estimate that rebuilding whale populations would remove 1.6×105 tons of carbon each year through sinking whale carcasses.
Even though fish and whales are only a small portion of the ocean's overall biomass, fishing and whaling have altered the ocean's ability to store and sequester carbon. Although these changes are small relative to the total ocean carbon sink, rebuilding populations of fish and whales would be comparable to other carbon management schemes, including ocean iron fertilization.
PMCID: PMC2928761  PMID: 20865156
11.  Killer Whale Depredation and Associated Costs to Alaskan Sablefish, Pacific Halibut and Greenland Turbot Longliners 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88906.
Killer whale (Orcinus orca) depredation (whales stealing or damaging fish caught on fishing gear) adversely impacts demersal longline fisheries for sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria), Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) and Greenland turbot (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Western Gulf of Alaska. These interactions increase direct costs and opportunity costs associated with catching fish and reduce the profitability of longline fishing in western Alaska. This study synthesizes National Marine Fisheries Service observer data, National Marine Fisheries Service sablefish longline survey and fishermen-collected depredation data to: 1) estimate the frequency of killer whale depredation on longline fisheries in Alaska; 2) estimate depredation-related catch per unit effort reductions; and 3) assess direct costs and opportunity costs incurred by longliners in western Alaska as a result of killer whale interactions. The percentage of commercial fishery sets affected by killer whales was highest in the Bering Sea fisheries for: sablefish (21.4%), Greenland turbot (9.9%), and Pacific halibut (6.9%). Average catch per unit effort reductions on depredated sets ranged from 35.1–69.3% for the observed longline fleet in all three management areas from 1998–2012 (p<0.001). To compensate for depredation, fishermen set additional gear to catch the same amount of fish, and this increased fuel costs by an additional 82% per depredated set (average $433 additional fuel per depredated set). In a separate analysis with six longline vessels in 2011and 2012, killer whale depredation avoidance measures resulted in an average additional cost of $494 per depredated vessel-day for fuel and crew food. Opportunity costs of time lost by fishermen averaged $522 per additional vessel-day on the grounds. This assessment of killer whale depredation costs represents the most extensive economic evaluation of this issue in Alaska to date and will help longline fishermen and managers consider the costs and benefits of depredation avoidance and alternative policy solutions.
PMCID: PMC3928335  PMID: 24558446
12.  Evolution of the Arctic Calanus complex: an Arctic marine avocado? 
Journal of Plankton Research  2012;34(3):191-195.
Before man hunted the large baleen whales to near extinction by the end of the nineteenth century, Arctic ecosystems were strongly influenced by these large predators. Their main prey were zooplankton, among which the calanoid copepod species of the genus Calanus, long considered key elements of polar marine ecosystems, are particularly abundant. These herbivorous zooplankters display a range of adaptations to the highly seasonal environments of the polar oceans, most notably extensive energy reserves and seasonal migrations to deep waters where the non-feeding season is spent in diapause. Classical work in marine ecology has suggested that slow growth, long lifespan and large body size in zooplankton are specific adaptations to life in cold waters with short and unpredictable feeding seasons. Here, we challenge this understanding and, by using an analogy from the evolutionary and contemporary history of the avocado, argue that predation pressure by the now nearly extinct baleen whales was an important driving force in the evolution of life history diversity in the Arctic Calanus complex.
PMCID: PMC3272840  PMID: 22312184
Arctic; Calanus; evolution; baleen whales; life history strategy; predation pressure; avocado analogy
13.  Haul-Out Behavior of Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) in Hood Canal, Washington 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38180.
The goal of this study was to model haul-out behavior of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) in the Hood Canal region of Washington State with respect to changes in physiological, environmental, and temporal covariates. Previous research has provided a solid understanding of seal haul-out behavior. Here, we expand on that work using a generalized linear mixed model (GLMM) with temporal autocorrelation and a large dataset. Our dataset included behavioral haul-out records from archival and VHF radio tag deployments on 25 individual seals representing 61,430 seal hours. A novel application for increased computational efficiency allowed us to examine this large dataset with a GLMM that appropriately accounts for temporal autocorellation. We found significant relationships with the covariates hour of day, day of year, minutes from high tide and year. Additionally, there was a significant effect of the interaction term hour of day : day of year. This interaction term demonstrated that seals are more likely to haul out during nighttime hours in August and September, but then switch to predominantly daylight haul-out patterns in October and November. We attribute this change in behavior to an effect of human disturbance levels. This study also examined a unique ecological event to determine the role of increased killer whale (Orcinus orca) predation on haul-out behavior. In 2003 and 2005 these harbor seals were exposed to unprecedented levels of killer whale predation and results show an overall increase in haul-out probability after exposure to killer whales. The outcome of this study will be integral to understanding any changes in population abundance as a result of increased killer whale predation.
PMCID: PMC3377645  PMID: 22723851
14.  Antarctic killer whales make rapid, round-trip movements to subtropical waters: evidence for physiological maintenance migrations? 
Biology Letters  2011;8(2):274-277.
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are important predators in high latitudes, where their ecological impact is mediated through their movements. We used satellite telemetry to provide the first evidence of migration for killer whales, characterized by fast (more than 12 km h−1, 6.5 knots) and direct movements away from Antarctic waters by six of 12 type B killer whales tagged when foraging near the Antarctic Peninsula, including all tags transmitting for more than three weeks. Tags on five of these whales revealed consistent movements to subtropical waters (30–37° S) off Uruguay and Brazil, in surface water temperatures ranging from −1.9°C to 24.2°C; one 109 day track documented a non-stop round trip of almost 9400 km (5075 nmi) in just 42 days. Although whales travelled slower in the warmest waters, there was no obvious interruption in swim speed or direction to indicate calving or prolonged feeding. Furthermore, these movements were aseasonal, initiating over 80 days between February and April; one whale returned to within 40 km of the tagging site at the onset of the austral winter in June. We suggest that these movements may represent periodic maintenance migrations, with warmer waters allowing skin regeneration without the high cost of heat loss: a physiological constraint that may also affect other whales.
PMCID: PMC3297399  PMID: 22031725
migration; killer whales; Antarctica
15.  Pilot Whales Attracted to Killer Whale Sounds: Acoustically-Mediated Interspecific Interactions in Cetaceans 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e52201.
In cetaceans’ communities, interactions between individuals of different species are often observed in the wild. Yet, due to methodological and technical challenges very little is known about the mediation of these interactions and their effect on cetaceans’ behavior. Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are a highly vocal species and can be both food competitors and potential predators of many other cetaceans. Thus, the interception of their vocalizations by unintended cetacean receivers may be particularly important in mediating interspecific interactions. To address this hypothesis, we conducted playbacks of killer whale vocalizations recorded during herring-feeding activity to free-ranging long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas). Using a multi-sensor tag, we were able to track the whales and to monitor changes of their movements and social behavior in response to the playbacks. We demonstrated that the playback of killer whale sounds to pilot whales induced a clear increase in group size and a strong attraction of the animals towards the sound source. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that the interception of heterospecific vocalizations can mediate interactions between different cetacean species in previously unrecognized ways.
PMCID: PMC3530591  PMID: 23300613
16.  Changes in dive behavior during naval sonar exposure in killer whales, long-finned pilot whales, and sperm whales 
Anthropogenic underwater sound in the environment might potentially affect the behavior of marine mammals enough to have an impact on their reproduction and survival. Diving behavior of four killer whales (Orcinus orca), seven long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas), and four sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) was studied during controlled exposures to naval sonar [low frequency active sonar (LFAS): 1–2 kHz and mid frequency active sonar (MFAS): 6–7 kHz] during three field seasons (2006–2009). Diving behavior was monitored before, during and after sonar exposure using an archival tag placed on the animal with suction cups. The tag recorded the animal's vertical movement, and additional data on horizontal movement and vocalizations were used to determine behavioral modes. Killer whales that were conducting deep dives at sonar onset changed abruptly to shallow diving (ShD) during LFAS, while killer whales conducting deep dives at the onset of MFAS did not alter dive mode. When in ShD mode at sonar onset, killer whales did not change their diving behavior. Pilot and sperm whales performed normal deep dives (NDD) during MFAS exposure. During LFAS exposures, long-finned pilot whales mostly performed fewer deep dives and some sperm whales performed shallower and shorter dives. Acoustic recording data presented previously indicates that deep diving (DD) is associated with feeding. Therefore, the observed changes in dive behavior of the three species could potentially reduce the foraging efficiency of the affected animals.
PMCID: PMC3468818  PMID: 23087648
marine mammal; dive; sonar
17.  Mitochondrial sequence divergence among Antarctic killer whale ecotypes is consistent with multiple species 
Biology Letters  2008;4(4):426-429.
Recently, three visually distinct forms of killer whales (Orcinus orca) were described from Antarctic waters and designated as types A, B and C. Based on consistent differences in prey selection and habitat preferences, morphological divergence and apparent lack of interbreeding among these broadly sympatric forms, it was suggested that they may represent separate species. To evaluate this hypothesis, we compared complete sequences of the mitochondrial control region from 81 Antarctic killer whale samples, including 9 type A, 18 type B, 47 type C and 7 type-undetermined individuals. We found three fixed differences that separated type A from B and C, and a single fixed difference that separated type C from A and B. These results are consistent with reproductive isolation among the different forms, although caution is needed in drawing further conclusions. Despite dramatic differences in morphology and ecology, the relatively low levels of sequence divergence in Antarctic killer whales indicate that these evolutionary changes occurred relatively rapidly and recently.
PMCID: PMC2610147  PMID: 18524738
Antarctica; killer whale; Orcinus orca; phylogenetics
18.  Out of the Pacific and Back Again: Insights into the Matrilineal History of Pacific Killer Whale Ecotypes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24980.
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are the most widely distributed marine mammals and have radiated to occupy a range of ecological niches. Disparate sympatric types are found in the North Atlantic, Antarctic and North Pacific oceans, however, little is known about the underlying mechanisms driving divergence. Previous phylogeographic analysis using complete mitogenomes yielded a bifurcating tree of clades corresponding to described ecotypes. However, there was low support at two nodes at which two Pacific and two Atlantic clades diverged. Here we apply further phylogenetic and coalescent analyses to partitioned mitochondrial genome sequences to better resolve the pattern of past radiations in this species. Our phylogenetic reconstructions indicate that in the North Pacific, sympatry between the maternal lineages that make up each ecotype arises from secondary contact. Both the phylogenetic reconstructions and a clinal decrease in diversity suggest a North Pacific to North Atlantic founding event, and the later return of killer whales to the North Pacific. Therefore, ecological divergence could have occurred during the allopatric phase through drift or selection and/or may have either commenced or have been consolidated upon secondary contact due to resource competition. The estimated timing of bidirectional migration between the North Pacific and North Atlantic coincided with the previous inter-glacial when the leakage of fauna from the Indo-Pacific into the Atlantic via the Agulhas current was particularly vigorous.
PMCID: PMC3176785  PMID: 21949818
19.  Animal-Borne Imaging Reveals Novel Insights into the Foraging Behaviors and Diel Activity of a Large-Bodied Apex Predator, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e83953.
Large-bodied, top- and apex predators (e.g., crocodilians, sharks, wolves, killer whales) can exert strong top-down effects within ecological communities through their interactions with prey. Due to inherent difficulties while studying the behavior of these often dangerous predatory species, relatively little is known regarding their feeding behaviors and activity patterns, information that is essential to understanding their role in regulating food web dynamics and ecological processes. Here we use animal-borne imaging systems (Crittercam) to study the foraging behavior and activity patterns of a cryptic, large-bodied predator, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in two estuaries of coastal Florida, USA. Using retrieved video data we examine the variation in foraging behaviors and activity patterns due to abiotic factors. We found the frequency of prey-attacks (mean = 0.49 prey attacks/hour) as well as the probability of prey-capture success (mean = 0.52 per attack) were significantly affected by time of day. Alligators attempted to capture prey most frequently during the night. Probability of prey-capture success per attack was highest during morning hours and sequentially lower during day, night, and sunset, respectively. Position in the water column also significantly affected prey-capture success, as individuals’ experienced two-fold greater success when attacking prey while submerged. These estimates are the first for wild adult American alligators and one of the few examples for any crocodilian species worldwide. More broadly, these results reveal that our understandings of crocodilian foraging behaviors are biased due to previous studies containing limited observations of cryptic and nocturnal foraging interactions. Our results can be used to inform greater understanding regarding the top-down effects of American alligators in estuarine food webs. Additionally, our results highlight the importance and power of using animal-borne imaging when studying the behavior of elusive large-bodied, apex predators, as it provides critical insights into their trophic and behavioral interactions.
PMCID: PMC3893291  PMID: 24454711
20.  What Enables Size-Selective Trophy Hunting of Wildlife? 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e103487.
Although rarely considered predators, wildlife hunters can function as important ecological and evolutionary agents. In part, their influence relates to targeting of large reproductive adults within prey populations. Despite known impacts of size-selective harvests, however, we know little about what enables hunters to kill these older, rarer, and presumably more wary individuals. In other mammalian predators, predatory performance varies with knowledge and physical condition, which accumulates and declines, respectively, with age. Moreover, some species evolved camouflage as a physical trait to aid in predatory performance. In this work, we tested whether knowledge-based faculty (use of a hunting guide with accumulated experience in specific areas), physical traits (relative body mass [RBM] and camouflage clothing), and age can predict predatory performance. We measured performance as do many hunters: size of killed cervid prey, using the number of antler tines as a proxy. Examining ∼4300 online photographs of hunters posing with carcasses, we found that only the presence of guides increased the odds of killing larger prey. Accounting for this effect, modest evidence suggested that unguided hunters presumably handicapped with the highest RBM actually had greater odds of killing large prey. There was no association with hunter age, perhaps because of our coarse measure (presence of grey hair) and the performance trade-offs between knowledge accumulation and physical deterioration with age. Despite its prevalence among sampled hunters (80%), camouflage had no influence on size of killed prey. Should these patterns be representative of other areas and prey, and our interpretations correct, evolutionarily-enlightened harvest management might benefit from regulatory scrutiny on guided hunting. More broadly, we suggest that by being nutritionally and demographically de-coupled from prey and aided by efficient killing technology and road access, wildlife hunters in the developed world might have overcome many of the physical, but not knowledge-based, challenges of hunting.
PMCID: PMC4123890  PMID: 25098246
21.  Temporal Dynamics of Top Predators Interactions in the Barents Sea 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e110933.
The Barents Sea system is often depicted as a simple food web in terms of number of dominant feeding links. The most conspicuous feeding link is between the Northeast Arctic cod Gadus morhua, the world's largest cod stock which is presently at a historical high level, and capelin Mallotus villosus. The system also holds diverse seabird and marine mammal communities. Previous diet studies may suggest that these top predators (cod, bird and sea mammals) compete for food particularly with respect to pelagic fish such as capelin and juvenile herring (Clupea harengus), and krill. In this paper we explored the diet of some Barents Sea top predators (cod, Black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, Common guillemot Uria aalge, and Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata). We developed a GAM modelling approach to analyse the temporal variation diet composition within and between predators, to explore intra- and inter-specific interactions. The GAM models demonstrated that the seabird diet is temperature dependent while the diet of Minke whale and cod is prey dependent; Minke whale and cod diets depend on the abundance of herring and capelin, respectively. There was significant diet overlap between cod and Minke whale, and between kittiwake and guillemot. In general, the diet overlap between predators increased with changes in herring and krill abundances. The diet overlap models developed in this study may help to identify inter-specific interactions and their dynamics that potentially affect the stocks targeted by fisheries.
PMCID: PMC4218717  PMID: 25365430
22.  Novel gastric helicobacters and oral campylobacters are present in captive and wild cetaceans 
Veterinary microbiology  2011;152(1-2):138-145.
The mammalian gastric and oral mucosa may be colonized by mixed Helicobacter and Campylobacter species, respectively, in individual animals. To better characterize the presence and distribution of Helicobacter and Campylobacter among marine mammals, we used PCR and 16S rDNA sequence analysis to examine gastric and oral samples from ten dolphins (Tursiops gephyreus), one killer whale (Orcinus orca), one false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens), and three wild La Plata river dolphins (Pontoporia blainvillei). Helicobacter spp. DNA was widely distributed in gastric and oral samples from both captive and wild cetaceans. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated two Helicobacter sequence clusters, one closely related to H. cetorum, a species isolated from dolphins and whales in North America. The second related cluster was to sequences obtained from dolphins in Australia and to gastric non-Helicobacter pylori helicobacters, and may represent a novel taxonomic group. Dental plaque sequences from four dolphins formed a third cluster within the Campylobacter genus that likely represents a novel species isolated from marine mammals. Identification of identical Helicobacter spp. DNA sequences from dental plaque, saliva and gastric fluids from the same hosts, suggests that the oral cavity may be involved in transmission. These results demonstrate that Helicobacter and Campylobacter species are commonly distributed in marine mammals, and identify taxonomic clusters that may represent novel species.
PMCID: PMC3142288  PMID: 21592686
Helicobacter; Campylobacter; marine mammals; cetaceans; gastritis
23.  Super-Aggregations of Krill and Humpback Whales in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctic Peninsula 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e19173.
Ecological relationships of krill and whales have not been explored in the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), and have only rarely been studied elsewhere in the Southern Ocean. In the austral autumn we observed an extremely high density (5.1 whales per km2) of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding on a super-aggregation of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) in Wilhelmina Bay. The krill biomass was approximately 2 million tons, distributed over an area of 100 km2 at densities of up to 2000 individuals m−3; reports of such ‘super-aggregations’ of krill have been absent in the scientific literature for >20 years. Retentive circulation patterns in the Bay entrained phytoplankton and meso-zooplankton that were grazed by the krill. Tagged whales rested during daylight hours and fed intensively throughout the night as krill migrated toward the surface. We infer that the previously unstudied WAP embayments are important foraging areas for whales during autumn and, furthermore, that meso-scale variation in the distribution of whales and their prey are important features of this system. Recent decreases in the abundance of Antarctic krill around the WAP have been linked to reductions in sea ice, mediated by rapid climate change in this area. At the same time, baleen whale populations in the Southern Ocean, which feed primarily on krill, are recovering from past exploitation. Consideration of these features and the effects of climate change on krill dynamics are critical to managing both krill harvests and the recovery of baleen whales in the Southern Ocean.
PMCID: PMC3083408  PMID: 21556153
24.  Metabolic Expenditures of Lunge Feeding Rorquals Across Scale: Implications for the Evolution of Filter Feeding and the Limits to Maximum Body Size 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44854.
Bulk-filter feeding is an energetically efficient strategy for resource acquisition and assimilation, and facilitates the maintenance of extreme body size as exemplified by baleen whales (Mysticeti) and multiple lineages of bony and cartilaginous fishes. Among mysticetes, rorqual whales (Balaenopteridae) exhibit an intermittent ram filter feeding mode, lunge feeding, which requires the abandonment of body-streamlining in favor of a high-drag, mouth-open configuration aimed at engulfing a very large amount of prey-laden water. Particularly while lunge feeding on krill (the most widespread prey preference among rorquals), the effort required during engulfment involve short bouts of high-intensity muscle activity that demand high metabolic output. We used computational modeling together with morphological and kinematic data on humpback (Megaptera noveaangliae), fin (Balaenoptera physalus), blue (Balaenoptera musculus) and minke (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) whales to estimate engulfment power output in comparison with standard metrics of metabolic rate. The simulations reveal that engulfment metabolism increases across the full body size of the larger rorqual species to nearly 50 times the basal metabolic rate of terrestrial mammals of the same body mass. Moreover, they suggest that the metabolism of the largest body sizes runs with significant oxygen deficits during mouth opening, namely, 20% over maximum at the size of the largest blue whales, thus requiring significant contributions from anaerobic catabolism during a lunge and significant recovery after a lunge. Our analyses show that engulfment metabolism is also significantly lower for smaller adults, typically one-tenth to one-half . These results not only point to a physiological limit on maximum body size in this lineage, but also have major implications for the ontogeny of extant rorquals as well as the evolutionary pathways used by ancestral toothed whales to transition from hunting individual prey items to filter feeding on prey aggregations.
PMCID: PMC3443106  PMID: 23024769
25.  Temporal patterns in the acoustic signals of beaked whales at Cross Seamount 
Biology Letters  2008;4(2):208-211.
Seamounts may influence the distribution of marine mammals through a combination of increased ocean mixing, enhanced local productivity and greater prey availability. To study the effects of seamounts on the presence and acoustic behaviour of cetaceans, we deployed a high-frequency acoustic recording package on the summit of Cross Seamount during April through October 2005. The most frequently detected cetacean vocalizations were echolocation sounds similar to those produced by ziphiid and mesoplodont beaked whales together with buzz-type signals consistent with prey-capture attempts. Beaked whale signals occurred almost entirely at night throughout the six-month deployment. Measurements of prey presence with a Simrad EK-60 fisheries acoustics echo sounder indicate that Cross Seamount may enhance local productivity in near-surface waters. Concentrations of micronekton were aggregated over the seamount in near-surface waters at night, and dense concentrations of nekton were detected across the surface of the summit. Our results suggest that seamounts may provide enhanced foraging opportunities for beaked whales during the night through a combination of increased productivity, vertical migrations by micronekton and local retention of prey. Furthermore, the summit of the seamount may act as a barrier against which whales concentrate prey.
PMCID: PMC2429936  PMID: 18252660
beaked whales; passive acoustic monitoring; seamounts; Pacific Ocean; fisheries acoustics

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