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]
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.