• Foraging tactics of humpback whales feeding near salmon hatchery-release sites in Southeast Alaska

      Kosma, Madison M.; McPhee, Megan V.; Straley, Janice M.; Szabo, Andrew R.; Wooller, Matthew J. (2019-12)
      Increases in the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) population have generated considerable interest in understanding the foraging habits of these large marine predators in the Gulf of Alaska. Globally, humpback whales are classified as generalist predators but are known to exhibit localized differences in diet. Intensified predation pressure is of particular concern to resource managers, who have observed whales feeding at juvenile hatchery salmon release sites in Southeast Alaska. We assessed the diets and behavioral tactics of humpback whales foraging near Hidden Falls Hatchery release sites (in Chatham Strait, 2016 to 2018) to better understand their predatory effects on juvenile hatchery-reared salmon. We used skin biopsies, prey sampling, and stable isotope analysis to estimate whales' diet composition. Aerial footage and photographic sequences were used to assess the foraging tactics used on this prey source. We observed three individual whales repeatedly feeding on juvenile hatchery-reared salmon, and we were able to sample them multiple times over a period spanning shifts in diet. Overall, the diets of these whales were higher trophically than other humpback whales foraging in the area, even before feeding on juvenile hatchery salmon started. These hatchery-feeding whales may be generally more piscivorous than other whales, which focused on planktivorous prey. Our repeat sampling, in conjunction with scheduled introductions of a novel prey source, provided a semi-controlled feeding experiment that allowed for incorporation and turnover rate estimates from humpback whale tissue in a way that was not previously possible for large, free-ranging cetaceans. Finally, during the course of this study we discovered an undescribed feeding tactic employed by hatchery-associated whales. We observed the use of solo bubble-nets to initially corral prey, followed by calculated movements to establish a secondary boundary with the pectoral fins that further condensed prey and increased foraging efficiency. Our study provided the first empirical evidence for what we describe as "pectoral herding". This work deepens our knowledge about humpback whale foraging ecology, how this innovative species is able to exploit newly available prey, and to what extent they feed on commercially valuable hatchery salmon.
    • Multi-scale movement of demersal fishes in Alaska

      Nielsen, Julie K.; Seitz, Andrew C.; Loher, Timothy; McDermott, Susanne F.; Mueter, Franz J.; Adkison, Milo D. (2019-05)
      Information on the movement of migratory demersal fishes such as Pacific halibut, Pacific cod, and sablefish is needed for management of these valuable fisheries in Alaska, yet available methods such as conventional tagging are too coarse to provide detailed information on migration characteristics. In this dissertation, I present methods for characterizing seasonal and annual demersal fish movement at multiple scales in space and time using electronic archival and acoustic tags. In Chapter 1, acoustic telemetry and the Net Squared Displacement statistic were used to identify and characterize small-scale movement of adult female Pacific halibut during summer foraging in a Marine Protected Area (MPA). The dominant movement pattern was home range behavior at spatial scales of less than 1 km, but a more dispersive behavioral state was also observed. In Chapter 2, Pop-up Satellite Archival Tags (PSATs) and acoustic tags were deployed on adult female Pacific halibut to determine annual movement patterns relative to MPA boundaries. Based on observations of summer home range behavior, high rates of year-round MPA residency, migration timing that largely coincided with winter commercial fisheries closures, and the demonstrated ability of migratory fish to return to previously occupied summer foraging areas, the MPA is likely to be effective for protecting both resident and migrant Pacific halibut brood stock year-round. In Chapter 3, I adapted a Hidden Markov Model (HMM) originally developed for geolocation of Atlantic cod in the North Sea for use on demersal fishes in Alaska, where maximum daily depth is the most informative and reliable geolocation variable. Because depth is considerably more heterogeneous in many regions of Alaska compared to the North Sea, I used simulated trajectories to determine that the degree of bathymetry heterogeneity affected model performance for different combinations of likelihood specification methods and model grid sizes. In Chapter 4, I added a new geolocation variable, geomagnetic data, to the HMM in a small-scale case study. The results suggest that the addition of geomagnetic data could increase model performance over depth alone, but more research is needed to continue validation of the method over larger areas in Alaska. In general, the HMM is a flexible tool for characterizing movement at multiple spatial scales and its use is likely to enrich our knowledge about migratory demersal fish movement in Alaska. The methods developed in this dissertation can provide valuable insights into demersal fish spatial dynamics that will benefit fisheries management activities such as stock delineation, stock assessment, and design of space-time closures.
    • Underwater bioacoustic analysis of bearded seal behavior off Barrow, Alaska

      Ajmi, Amal Romona; Castellini, Michael; Kelley, John; Murphy, Edward (1996-12)
      Bearded seal vocalizations were collected incidentally during the 1993 bowhead whale census. Analysis of seal locations, calculated by triangulation of the vocalizations, provided information on seal swim velocity, distribution, and movement. Swim speeds fell within previously documented values. Seal positions, when correlated with satellite images, suggested that seal distribution was directly associated with ice topography. Individually tracked seals exhibited different types of movements including: maintenance of position, rapid increase in speed and slower, prolonged directional travel. Swim speeds, distributions, and movements suggest distinct behaviors which may include foraging, territorial or female defense, or display. Movement and behaviors may alter as ice conditions change throughout the breeding season. Bioacoustics, when coupled with other research methods, is a useful tool in the study of the behavior of less accessible animals.