Pacific capelin (Mallotus villosus) populations declined dramatically in the Northeastern Pacific following ocean warming after the regime shift of 1977, but little is known about the cause of the decline or the functional relationships between capelin and their environment. We assessed the distribution and abundance of spawning, non-spawning adult and larval capelin in Glacier Bay, an estuarine fjord system in southeastern Alaska. We used principal components analysis to analyze midwater trawl and beach seine data collected between 1999 and 2004 with respect to oceanographic data and other measures of physical habitat including proximity to tidewater glaciers and potential spawning habitat. Both spawning and non-spawning adult Pacific capelin were more likely to occur in areas closest to tidewater glaciers, and those areas were distinguished by lower temperature, higher turbidity, higher dissolved oxygen and lower chlorophyll a levels when compared with other areas of the bay. The distribution of larval Pacific capelin was not sensitive to glacial influence. Pre-spawning females collected farther from tidewater glaciers were at a lower maturity state than those sampled closer to tidewater glaciers, and the geographic variation in the onset of spawning is likely the result of differences in the marine habitat among sub-areas of Glacier Bay. Proximity to cold water in Glacier Bay may have provided a refuge for capelin during the recent warm years in the Gulf of Alaska.
Additional publication details
Distribution and spawning dynamics of capelin (Mallotus villosus) in Glacier Bay, Alaska: A cold water refugium