Fine scale bio-physical oceanographic characteristics predict the foraging occurrence of contrasting seabird species; Gannet (Morus bassanus) and storm petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus)

B. E. Scott*, A. Webb, M. R. Palmer, C. B. Embling, J. Sharples

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


AS We begin to manage our oceans in much more spatial detail we must understand a great deal more about oceanographic habitat preferences of marine mobile top predators. In this unique field study we test a hypothesis on the mechanisms defining mobile predator foraging habitat characteristics by comparing temporally and spatially detailed bio-physical oceanographic data from contrasting topographical locations. We contrast the foraging locations of two very different seabird species, gannets and storm petrels, by repeatedly sampling a bank and a nearby flat area over daily tidal cycles during spring and neap tides. The results suggest that storm petrels are linked to foraging in specific locations where internal waves are produced, which is mainly on banks. These locations can also include the presence of high biomass of chlorophyll. In contrast, the location where more gannets are foraging is significantly influenced by temporal variables with higher densities of foraging birds much more likely during the neap tide than times of spring tide. The foraging times of both species was influenced by differences between the vertical layers of the water column above and below the thermocline; via either vertical shear of horizontal currents or absolute differences in speed between layers. Higher densities of foraging gannets were significantly more likely to be found at ebb tides in both bank and flat regions however over the bank, the density of foraging gannets was higher when the differences in speed between the layers were at a maximum. Both gannets and storm petrels appear to be more likely to forage when wind direction is opposed to tidal direction. This detailed understanding links foraging behaviour to predictable spatial and temporal bio-physical vertical characteristics and thus can be immediately used to explain variance and increase certainty in past abundance and distributional surveys. These results also illuminate the types of variables that should be considered when assessing potential changes to the distribution and characteristics of habitats from increased anthropogenic disturbances such as large scale offshore wind, wave and tidal renewable deployments. Crown Copyright (C) 2013 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-129
Number of pages12
JournalProgress in Oceanography
Early online date21 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


  • marine predator
  • prey abundance
  • site fidelity
  • Brunnichs guillemots
  • California current
  • Adelie penguins
  • diving behavior
  • area fidelity
  • sea
  • tactics


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