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Development of foraging behavior in juvenile northern elephant seals


Ramona L. Zeno, Department of Biology, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928, USA.


Rapid development of foraging ability is critical for phocids. In northern elephant seals Mirounga angustirostris, juvenile survivorship is low compared with adults and foraging difficulties are potentially associated with increased mortality. At Año Nuevo, California, foraging behavior of nine juvenile females during their third foraging migration and five juvenile females on their fourth foraging migration were documented using a variety of commercially available and custom time depth recorders. Foraging success, diving ability, time at depth, bouts of behavior and body composition changes were compared between trips to sea. There were no significant differences in foraging success measured as mass gain between the third and fourth trips to sea. There were differences in how energy was deposited between lean and adipose tissue compartments. Diving ability developed between trips to sea, reflected in significant increases in depth, dive duration and bottom time. Development also occurred within trips to sea. Depth, dive duration and bottom time increased with time at sea. Aerobic capacity appears to increase between the third and fourth trip, with a significantly increased percentage of total time submerged and a significantly lower diving rate. All juveniles on the fourth trip and four out of nine juveniles on the third trip followed marked diel patterns, foraging deep during the day and shallow at night. Like adults, juveniles appeared to stay primarily aerobic with surface intervals independent of dive durations. These results confirm that female juvenile northern elephant seals undergo important developmental changes in foraging behavior between the third and fourth trip, but these changes do not significantly impact foraging success.