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A quantitative, hierarchical approach for detecting drift dives and tracking buoyancy changes in southern elephant seals


Arce, F and Bestley, S and Hindell, MA and McMahon, CR and Wotherspoon, S, A quantitative, hierarchical approach for detecting drift dives and tracking buoyancy changes in southern elephant seals, Scientific Reports, 9, (1) Article 8936. ISSN 2045-2322 (2019) [Refereed Article]


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© The Author(s) 2019 Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit

DOI: doi:10.1038/s41598-019-44970-1


Foraging behaviour of marine predators inferred from the analysis of horizontal or vertical movements commonly lack quantitative information about foraging success. Several marine mammal species are known to perform dives where they passively drift in the water column, termed "drift" dives. The drift rate is determined by the animal’s buoyancy, which can be used to make inference regarding body condition. Long term dive records retrieved via satellite uplink are often summarized before transmission. This loss of resolution hampers identification of drift dives. Here, we develop a flexible, hierarchically structured approach to identify drift dives and estimate the drift rate from the summarized time-depth profiles that are increasingly available to the global research community. Based on high-resolution dive data from southern elephant seals, we classify dives as drift/non-drift and apply a summarization algorithm. We then (i) automatically generate dive groups based on inflection point ordering using a ‘Reverse’ Broken-Stick Algorithm, (ii) develop a set of threshold criteria to apply across groups, ensuring non-drift dives are most efficiently rejected, and (iii) finally implement a custom Kalman filter to retain the remaining dives that are within the seals estimated drifting time series. Validation with independent data sets shows our method retains approximately 3% of all dives, of which 88% are true drift dives. The drift rate estimates are unbiased, with the upper 95% quantile of the mean squared error between the daily averaged summarized profiles using our method (SDDR) and the observed daily averaged drift rate (ODDR) being only 0.0015. The trend of the drifting time-series match expectations for capital breeders, showing the lowest body condition commencing foraging trips and a progressive improvement as they remain at sea. Our method offers sufficient resolution to track small changes in body condition at a fine temporal scale. This approach overcomes a long-term challenge for large existing and ongoing data collections, with potential application across other drift diving species. Enabling robust identification of foraging success at sea offers a rare and valuable opportunity for monitoring marine ecosystem productivity in space and time by tracking the success of a top predator.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Southern Ocean, drift dives, southern elephant seals, marine predators, foraging success, biotelemetry
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Behavioural ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments
Objective Field:Biodiversity in Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments
UTAS Author:Arce, F (Mr Fernando Arce Gonzalez)
UTAS Author:Bestley, S (Dr Sophie Bestley)
UTAS Author:Hindell, MA (Professor Mark Hindell)
UTAS Author:McMahon, CR (Dr Clive McMahon)
UTAS Author:Wotherspoon, S (Dr Simon Wotherspoon)
ID Code:134583
Year Published:2019
Web of Science® Times Cited:5
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2019-08-21
Last Modified:2020-01-07
Downloads:38 View Download Statistics

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