Ringed seal (Pusa hispida) seasonal movements, diving, and haul-out behavior in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas (2011–2017)

Ecology and Evolution
By: , and 

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Abstract

Continued Arctic warming and sea-ice loss will have important implications for the conservation of ringed seals, a highly ice-dependent species. A better understanding of their spatial ecology will help characterize emerging ecological trends and inform management decisions. We deployed satellite transmitters on ringed seals in the summers of 2011, 2014, and 2016 near Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska to monitor their movements, diving, and haul-out behavior. We present analyses of tracking and dive data provided by 17 seals that were tracked until at least January of the following year. Seals mostly ranged north of Utqiaġvik in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas during summer before moving into the southern Chukchi and Bering Seas during winter. In all seasons, ringed seals occupied a diversity of habitats and spatial distributions; from near shore and localized, to far offshore and wide-ranging in drifting sea-ice. Continental shelf waters were occupied for >96% of tracking-days, during which repetitive-diving (suggestive of foraging) primarily to the seafloor was the most frequent activity. From mid-summer to early-fall, 12 seals made ~ one-week forays off-shelf to the deep Arctic Basin, most reaching the retreating pack-ice, where they spent most of their time hauled out. Diel activity patterns suggested greater allocation of foraging efforts to midday hours. Haul-out patterns were complementary, occurring mostly at night until April-May when midday hours were preferred. Ringed seals captured in 2011—concurrent with an unusual mortality event (UME) that affected all ice seal species—differed morphologically and behaviorally from seals captured in other years. Speculations about the physiology of molting and its role in energetics, habitat use, and behavior are discussed; along with possible evidence of purported ringed seal ecotypes.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Ringed seal (Pusa hispida) seasonal movements, diving, and haul-out behavior in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas (2011–2017)
Series title Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.1002/ece3.6302
Volume 10
Issue 12
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 21 p.
First page 5595
Last page 5616
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Sea
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