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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Quantifying the costs of dive behaviours and foraging strategies in Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) Goundie, Elizabeth Thomson


Air-breathing divers, such as marine mammals, should adjust their diving behaviours in relation to the depth and density of their prey to minimize the energetic costs and maximize the benefits of foraging. However, there is little experimental data to test these predictions or to develop models to predict the responses of marine mammals to changes in prey availability. The objectives of my study were to 1) determine how changes in prey availability affect dive behaviour and foraging efficiency in Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) and 2) develop models with data from free-diving captive Steller sea lions to estimate foraging costs in wild animals and evaluate energetic trade-offs between different foraging strategies. I measured the diving metabolic rate, dive durations, and food intake of 4 trained sea lions diving in the open ocean on simulated prey patches of high- or low-densities at 10 m and 40 m. I also measured diving metabolic rates of sea lions performing 4 controlled dive types that allowed me to estimate the separate costs of different dive components (i.e., surface time, bottom time, and transiting to and from depth). I found that animals diving on prey patches with low prey density altered their dive behaviours and spent proportionally less time actively foraging, which ultimately decreased their foraging efficiency. I also found that making single, longer dives were less energetically costly than making multiple shorter dives in a bout, but that the sea lions replenished oxygen stores more efficiently when making a bout of dives. Finally, I determined the metabolic cost of transiting to and from depth (20.5±13.0 ml O₂ min₋¹ kg₋¹) was greater than the cost of foraging during the bottom portion of a dive (13.5±4.1 ml O₂ min₋¹ kg₋¹). With these values, I generated a predictive equation to estimate the diving costs of free-ranging animals. Overall, my results indicate that Steller sea lions do alter their dive behaviour in relation to prey availability and that different foraging strategies have different energetic costs. These results can be used to understand how changes in prey availability affect the overall energy balance and health of Steller sea lions.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada