Get access

Intraspecific variation in movement patterns: modeling individual behaviour in a large marine predator


  • Deborah Austin,

  • W. D. Bowen,

  • J. I. McMillan

D. Austin, Dept of Biology, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, Nova Scotia B2H 4JI, Canada ( – W. D. Bowen and J. I. McMillan, Marine Fish Division, Bedford Inst. of Oceanography, Dept of Fisheries and Oceans, PO Box 1006, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, B2Y 4A2, Canada.


In large marine predators, foraging entails movement. Quantitative models reveal how behaviours can mediate individual movement, such that deviations from a random pattern may reveal specific search tactics or behaviour. Using locations for 52 grey seals fitted with satellite-linked recorders on Sable Island; we modeled movement as a correlated random walk (CRW) for individual animals, at two temporal scales. Mean move length, turning angle, and net squared displacement (R2n: the rate of change in area over time) at successive moves over 3 to 10 months were calculated. The distribution of move lengths of individual animals was compared to a Lévy distribution to determine if grey seals use a Lévy flight search tactic. Grey seals exhibited three types of movement as determined by CRW model fit: directed movers – animals displaying directed long distance travel that were significantly underpredicted by the CRW (23% of animals); residents – animals remaining in the area surrounding Sable Island that were overpredicted by the model (29% of animals); and correlated random walkers – those (48% of animals) in which movement was predicted by the CRW model. Kernel home range size differed significantly among all three movement types, as did travel speed, mean move length, mean R2n and total distance traveled. Sex and season of deployment were significant predictors of movement type, with directed movers more likely to be male and residents more likely to be female. Only 30% of grey seals fit a Lévy distribution, which suggests that food patches used by the majority of seals are not randomly distributed. Intraspecific variation in movement behaviour is an important characteristic in grey seal foraging ecology, underscoring the need to account for such variability in developing models of habitat use and predation.