Beneath the Antarctic sea‐ice: Fine‐scale analysis of Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) behavior and predator–prey interactions, using micro‐sonar data in Terre Adélie - Sorbonne Université Access content directly
Journal Articles Ecology and Evolution Year : 2023

Beneath the Antarctic sea‐ice: Fine‐scale analysis of Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) behavior and predator–prey interactions, using micro‐sonar data in Terre Adélie

Abstract

Lactation is the most energy-demanding event in mammals’ reproduction. In pinnipeds, females are the only food providers to the young and have developed numerous behavioural and physiological lactation strategies, from capital-breeding to income-breeding. Lactating females’ fine-scale foraging strategy, and precise understanding of how females supplement their pup’s needs as well as their own are important to understand the species’ ecology and energetic balance. Polar pinnipeds, inhabiting extreme environments, are sensitive to climate change and variability, understanding their constraints and foraging strategy during lactation is therefore important. In 2019, three sonar tags were deployed on lactating Weddell seals in Terre Adélie (East Antarctica) for seven days, to study fine-scale predator-prey interactions. Feeding activity was mostly benthic, reduced, central-placed and spatially limited. Females spent most of their time hauled-out. A total of 331 prey capture attempts (PrCAs) were recorded using tri-axial acceleration data, with 125 prey identified on echograms (5 cm, acoustic size). All PrCAs occurred on the seafloor, shallower than usual records (mean depth of 88 m, versus 280 m after their molt). We also found that they only fed in three of the five identified dive shapes, during the ascent or throughout the dive. Half of the prey were reactive to the seal’s approach, either leaving the seafloor, or escaping just above the seafloor, suggesting that the seals hunt by chasing them from the seabed. Seals continuously scanned the area during the approach phase, evoking opportunistic foraging. Our results provide additional evidence that Weddell seal forage during lactation, displaying a mix of capital-breeding and income-breeding strategies during this period of physiological stress. This work sheds light on previously unexplored aspects of their foraging behaviour, such as shallow water environments, targeting benthic prey, generally focusing on single prey rather than schools, and evidence of visual scanning through observed head movements.
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hal-04350779 , version 1 (18-12-2023)

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Adélie Antoine, Sara Labrousse, Pauline Goulet, Mathilde Chevallay, Joris Laborie, et al.. Beneath the Antarctic sea‐ice: Fine‐scale analysis of Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) behavior and predator–prey interactions, using micro‐sonar data in Terre Adélie. Ecology and Evolution, 2023, 13 (12), ⟨10.1002/ece3.10796⟩. ⟨hal-04350779⟩
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