We document changes in the number of sightings and timing of humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), blue (Balaenoptera musculus), and gray (Eschrichtius robustus) whale migratory phases in the vicinity of the Farallon Islands, California. We hypothesized that changes in the timing of migration off central California were driven by local oceanography, regional upwelling, and basin-scale climate conditions. Using 24 years of daily whale counts collected from Southeast Farallon Island, we developed negative binomial regression models to evaluate trends in local whale sightings over time. We then used linear models to assess trends in the timing of migration, and to identify potential environmental drivers. These drivers included local, regional and basin-scale patterns; the latter included the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation, which influence, wind-driven upwelling, and overall productivity in the California Current System. We then created a forecast model to predict the timing of migration. Humpback whale sightings significantly increased over the study period, but blue and gray whale counts did not, though there was variability across the time series. Date of breeding migration (departure) for all species showed little to no change, whereas date of migration towards feeding areas (arrival) occurred earlier for humpback and blue whales. Timing was significantly influenced by a mix of local oceanography, regional, and basin-scale climate variables. Earlier arrival time without concomitant earlier departure time results in longer periods when blue and humpback whales are at risk of entanglement in the Gulf of the Farallones. We maintain that these changes have increased whale exposure to pot and trap fishery gear off the central California coast during the spring, elevating the risk of entanglements. Humpback entanglement rates were significantly associated with increased counts and early arrival in central California. Actions to decrease the temporal overlap between whales and pot/trap fishing gear, particularly when whales arrive earlier in warm water years, would likely decrease the risk of entanglements.
Distributions of Species
Phytoplankton shifts driven by the environmental changes can significantly impact the functioning of marine ecosystems. Analyzing time series data is an important way to understand how phytoplankton responds to environmental changes. Here, multiple indicators, including diatoms and dinoflagellate cysts, total organic matter, carbon and nitrogen isotopes, and biosilicate, were analyzed in the sediment core from the Central Bohai Sea. A 250-year palaeo-environment was reconstructed based on these indicators to examine the responses of phytoplankton assemblages to environmental events. Two significant shifting points were identified from the varying trend of diatoms and cysts. The first one occurred in the 1850s, when the Yellow River outlet relocated from the southern Yellow Sea to the Bohai Sea, as evidenced by finer grain size and lower sea salinity, causing a significant increase in total biomass and brackish species. The other shift happened in the 1970s, when significantly increased fertilizer usage and wastewater discharge led to more organic matter in the core and nitrogen enrichment in the water column up to the 2010s, causing a marked increase in total biomass, small-sized species, and harmful algal bloom species. Redundancy analysis between major community shifts and environmental factors indicated that the Yellow River input and nutrient enrichment had a more important role in regulating phytoplankton shifts than rising temperature after the 1970s.
We examined spatial patterns in diet, trophic niche width and niche overlap for chum, pink and sockeye salmon across the North Pacific during 1959–1969. This is a baseline period before major hatchery enhancement occurred coinciding with a negative phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Large-scale (between regions) and fine-scale (within regions) spatial and interspecies differences were apparent. In the Western Subarctic, all species tended to consume zooplankton. In the Bering Sea, chum consumed zooplankton, while sockeye and pink alternated between zooplankton and micronekton. In the Gulf of Alaska/Eastern Subarctic, chum and sockeye specialized on gelatinous zooplankton and cephalopod prey, respectively, while pink consumed a mixture of zooplankton and micronekton. The highest diet overlap across the North Pacific was between pink and sockeye (46.6%), followed by chum and pink (31.8%), and chum and sockeye (30.9%). Greater diet specialization was evident in the Gulf of Alaska/Eastern Subarctic compared to the Western Pacific. Generally, species had higher niche width and overlap in areas of high prey availability, and this was particularly evident for chum salmon. In addition to the large-scale trophic patterns, our data revealed novel fine-scale spatial patterns, including latitudinal, onshore-offshore, and cross-gyre gradients. Our results showed that pink tended to be more generalist consumers, and their diets may be a better reflection of overall prey presence and abundance in the environment. Conversely, chum and sockeye tended to be more specialist consumers, and their diets may provide a better reflection of interspecies dynamics or prey availability. This study provides a baseline for comparison with current and future changes in salmon marine ecology and North Pacific ecosystems. Finally, we identify two important data gaps that need addressing, that of improved taxonomic resolution diet data for Pacific salmon and focused research on sub-mesoscale oceanographic features that may play an important role in salmon health and productivity.
The floating marine debris (FMD) and the associated rafting communities are one of the major stressors to ecosystem services, global biodiversity and economy and human health. In this study, assemblages of encrusting organisms on different types of stranded FMD along the west coast of Qatar, Arabian/Persian Gulf (hereafter referred to as ‘Gulf’) were examined. The analysis showed 18 fouling species belonging to 5 phyla (Annelida, Anthropoda, Bryozoa, Mollusca and Porifera) on the FMD. The most abundant fouling species were the encrusting Amphibalanus amphitrite, polychaete Spirobranchus kraussii, Bryozoan species and Megabalanus coccopoma. More number of taxa were found on larger size FMD than on smaller FMD. Some of the barnacle rafting types were found to be non-indigenous species. The central and northwest parts of the Qatar had more FMD and fouled species than in other locations. Winds and the prevailing hydrodynamic conditions (waves and currents) played an important role in the transportation and distribution of FMD and associated organisms along the west coast of Qatar. The present study confirmed that huge amount of bio-fouled FMD items, causing great damage to biodiversity, drift in the surface layer of ocean and eventually strand onto the beaches. We propose a simple, but an effective management plan for FMD and associated organisms at regional scale to restore the biodiversity, sustainability and health of the marine ecosystem in the Gulf.
Identifying threatened populations and quantifying their vulnerability is crucial for establishing priorities for conservation and providing robust information for decision-making. Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins have been long subjected to by-catch mortality in gillnet fisheries in coastal waters of southern Brazil, particularly in the Patos Lagoon estuary (PLE) and adjacent coastal waters, where dolphins from three populations (or Management Units) show overlapping home ranges. In this study we used a stage-classified matrix population model to conduct a demographic analysis of the PLE’s population with life-history data estimated through an 8 years mark-recapture study. A population viability analysis (PVA) was used to run a series of simulations where the risk was assessed under different by-catch scenarios, taking into account the effects of parameter uncertainty and stochasticity in the projections. In the absence of by-catch, we estimated that this dolphin population would growth at a rate of about 3% annually (95% CI: 1.2–5.8%). Under current by-catch rates, prognoses indicated high probabilities of viability over the next 60 years. These optimistic prognoses appear to be associated with the high survival of adult females. However, the eventual removal of very few mature females (one every year or two) would result in a prominent likelihood of decline from its current abundance at all pre-specified levels. The viability of the population would be substantially improved if the survival of juveniles/sub-adults could be increased. This may be achieved through the recently implemented dolphin protection area, which prohibits gillnet fisheries in the core area of this population. If the protection area reduces the entanglement rates of the most impacted life-stages (i.e., juvenile/sub-adult dolphins), there would be a substantial chance of the PLE’s dolphin population increasing above 20% of its current size, which is here proposed as conservation goal. If met, this goal has the potential to promote habitat quality, increase genetic diversity and connectivity with adjacent populations, enhancing the ability of bottlenose dolphins in southern Brazil to cope with environmental change and potential disease outbreaks.
The Tropical Atlantic Ocean has recently been the source of enormous amounts of floating Sargassum macroalgae that have started to inundate shorelines in the Caribbean, the western coast of Africa and northern Brazil. It is still unclear, however, how the surface currents carry the Sargassum, largely restricted to the upper meter of the ocean, and whether observed surface drifter trajectories and hydrodynamical ocean models can be used to simulate its pathways. Here, we analyze a dataset of two types of surface drifters (38 in total), purposely deployed in the Tropical Atlantic Ocean in July, 2019. Twenty of the surface drifters were undrogued and reached only ∼8 cm into the water, while the other 18 were standard Surface Velocity Program (SVP) drifters that all had a drogue centered around 15 m depth. We show that the undrogued drifters separate more slowly than the drogued SVP drifters, likely because of the suppressed turbulence due to convergence in wind rows, which was stronger right at the surface than at 15 m depth. Undrogued drifters were also more likely to enter the Caribbean Sea. We also show that the novel Surface and Merged Ocean Currents (SMOC) product from the Copernicus Marine Environmental Service (CMEMS) does not clearly simulate one type of drifter better than the other, highlighting the need for further improvements in assimilated hydrodynamic models in the region, for a better understanding and forecasting of Sargassum drift in the Tropical Atlantic.
Indicators for preserving marine biodiversity include knowledge of how the spatial distribution and critical habitats of species overlap with human activities and impacts. Such indicators are key tools for marine spatial planning, a process that identifies and resolves conflicts between human uses and the conservation of marine environments. The common bottlenose dolphin in the Mediterranean Sea is considered a vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List and a priority species of the EU Habitat Directive. Here, we estimated spatio-temporal patterns of the species occurrence in the area around one Marine Protected Area (MPA) and two Sites of Community Importance (SCI) of the North western Sardinia, with the aim to predict the species distribution and the main links with the environmental factors and boat traffic. To evaluate whether dolphin groups with calves showed any habitat preference different from groups without calves, separate models for both type of groups were done. The most important contributing variables to the dolphin habitat suitability models were the likelihood of boat presence, habitat type and mean sea surface temperature. Different model outputs were obtained depending on dolphin group composition. The area of high likelihood of dolphin presence ranged between 30 and 60 km2 and was smaller for groups with calves. Further, the area of highest dolphin habitat suitability overlaps with the area of high boat traffic, suggesting that boating in the study site is a potential relevant anthropogenic threat to dolphins. Particularly, boating is concentrated inside and around the MPA/SCIs, indicating the need for stronger restriction measures. We propose updated SCI boundaries for effective protection of common bottlenose dolphins. These areas and the suggestions of regulation are specifically aimed at reducing the impact of boating on dolphins, especially for groups with calves. Synthesis and applications. Management measures should be designed based on the data here provided, and then implemented and enforced to decrease dolphin-boat interactions, especially for mother-calf pairs. The creation of new coastal SCIs should be considered especially where boat traffic overlaps with areas most suitable for dolphins. In these SCIs, boating should be managed to limit disturbance, avoidance or alterations of dolphin vital behavior.
The eastern North Pacific gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) population is considered “recovered” since the days of commercial whaling, with a population of over 25,000 animals. However, gray whale habitat is changing rapidly due to urbanization of the migratory coastal corridor, increases in shipping, and climate change altering water conditions and prey distribution. Increased single strandings and intermittent large-scale mortality events have occurred over the past 20 years, raising questions about how gray whale health is affected by whale population size (density dependence), climate change, and coastal development. To understand the impacts of these factors on health and the role of health changes in whale population dynamics, increased understanding of the pathogenesis and epidemiology of diseases in gray whales is needed. To date, most information on gray whale health and disease is in single case reports, in sections of larger papers on whale ecology, or in technical memoranda and conference proceedings. Here we review existing data on gray whale health and disease to provide a synthesis of available information and a baseline for future studies, and suggest priorities for future study of gray whale health. The latter include nutritional studies to distinguish annual physiological fasting from starvation leading to mortality, identification of endemic and novel viruses through increased use of molecular techniques, quantifying parasitic infections to explore interactions among prey shifts and parasite infection and body condition, as well as enhancing necropsy efforts to identify stochastic causes of mortality such as vessel strikes, entanglements, and predation. Integration of health and disease studies on individual animals with population monitoring and models of whale/prey dynamics will require interdisciplinary approaches to understand the role of health changes in population dynamics of this coastal whale.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the bulk of published studies for sea turtles have focused on northern (United States) waters where economic resources are centered, with fewer studies in the southern portion of the basin, resulting in significant knowledge gaps in these underrepresented areas. Similarly, publications on adult sea turtles are dominated by research on females that come ashore to nest and can be readily studied (e.g., through the collection of biological samples and the application of satellite-telemetry devices), whereas information on adult male sea turtles is scarce. The goal of this paper is to begin filling these knowledge gaps by synthesizing available data on adult male sea turtles in the southern Gulf of Mexico. We used satellite-telemetry, boat- and drone-based surveys, and stranding records combined with ocean circulation modeling to better understand the spatial distribution of male loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), and Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles in the southern Gulf of Mexico. These spatially explicit analyses will provide context for opportunistically collected data on male sea turtles and better contribute to the management and restoration of sea turtle populations that use the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover, this synthesis can serve as a launching point for directed studies on male sea turtles in this region.
Quantifying early life movements is essential to understanding migratory pathways and habitat use that can impact individuals’ success later in life. To gauge how neonatal movements set the stage for later habitat use, we tracked neonate leatherback turtles (n = 94) with acoustic tags from Pacuare, Costa Rica, in 2016 and 2018. We analyzed movements using a first passage time analysis and random walk models, the results of which indicated neonates followed a fixed compass direction as they traveled away from shore and that strong currents in these areas resulted in advection. We combined the tracking data with concurrent environmental variables in a generalized additive mixed model framework. Our results showed the south-east current flow in this area has spatial and temporal structure consistent with large-scale geostrophic currents and not tidal current or local wind speed influences. After accounting for advection by currents, true neonate swimming speed was significantly related to current speed, first passage time, and the year. Neonates had three main response strategies to currents above 0.5 m s–1, with most increasing their swimming speed and the rest maintaining either a constant or decreased swimming speed. Neonates were significantly larger in 2018 than in 2016 but their average swimming speed was not significantly related to body size, indicating that environmental factors were more important contributors to their dispersal. We conclude that abiotic factors, including the strength and direction of the currents, significantly affect the swimming and dispersal strategy of neonate leatherback turtles and these results can help to inform strategies for releases of neonate turtles from hatcheries, future tracking studies, and conservation efforts.