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USGS at The Wildlife Society: From sea-ice change to contaminants to predators and prey

ing habitat of harbor seals relative to cruise ship routes in Glacier Bay National Park.

Glacier Bay National Park has historically supported one of the largest populations of breeding harbor seals in Alaska. However, the number of seals has declined by nearly 15 percent per year since 1992. During the same period, the number of cruise ships that have entered the park has increased by 25 percent and may increase up to another 30%. Although the park has initiated restrictions on cruise ships to minimize disturbance of seals at important breeding locations (including terrestrial and ice haul-outs), the extent of overlap between important foraging habitat of seals and areas used by cruise ships was unknown. This study identified foraging areas used by seals, and compared fish densities in these areas with areas used by cruise ships. For two years, researchers tagged 46 seals, and observed the behavior of 36 of them by observing their foraging behavior on 74 occasions. Seals using terrestrial haul-outs foraged predominantly in nearshore habitats within 3.1 miles of haul-outs. Seals captured in ice habitats likewise foraged nearshore but traveled farther from haul-outs to forage (range 0-63 miles). Only 11 percent of foraging bouts of seals observed by researchers were within areas used by cruise ships, and fewer than 17 percent of all foraging bouts were within 1.2 miles of ship routes. Furthermore, after accounting for differences in water temperature, depth, and distance to haul-out, prey densities (including forage fish) from mid-water trawls were similar in areas where seals foraged outside of cruise ship routes compared to areas within cruise ship routes. These results suggest that forging locations of harbor seals were a function of choice, rather than displacement. Foraging habitat of seals appears to be sufficiently protected from cruise ship disturbance, although the effects of other vessel classes on foraging seals is yet unknown. Scott Gende an
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Contact: Catherine Puckett
cpuckett@usgs.gov
352-264-3532
United States Geological Survey
25-Sep-2006


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