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Charismatic marine predators

Published: 27 July 2016

Charismatic marine predators, which include seabirds, cetaceans and pinnipeds, face continuous threats from climate change alongside offshore developments and activities. Yet risk assessments focussing on these potential threats are often clouded with uncertainty – uncertainty that is linked to a limited understanding of what dictates the distributions of these species in time and space.


Our work at Bangor University and the Seawatch Foundation is aiming to increase this understanding by collating thousands of at-sea vessel surveys performed across several decades and the European region spanning from Iceland to Portugal and Ireland to the Baltic. These data will be combined with those quantifying environmental conditions and prey characteristics to first help explain when and where predators are found, and then possibly predict how these distributions could be effected by changes in our marine environment. This knowledge could also help identify overlap and conflicts between top-predators and offshore developments and activities – outputs which can identify sensitive species and facilitate the development of appropriate mitigation measures to safeguard these populations.

We are currently nearing the end of data collation, and shall to start analysis in the next few months. Initial outputs will include measures of densities which, as well as answering our key questions, will also provide useful inputs for the dynamic ecosystem models being performed by colleagues at Strathclyde and SAMS; models which will help us to understand how the foraging tendencies of top-predators could affect whole communities. Outputs will also help colleagues at the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology seeking to understand how variations in environmental conditions can impact population dynamics of seabird species. In addition to the collation of existing surveys, we have performed our own surveys in the Celtic Sea and the Hebrides, the later in collaboration with the RSPB, which are specifically investigating the role of tidal energy in shaping the distribution of predator communities within these regions. This work has particular relevance to the burgeoning tidal stream energy industry, as well as for coastal areas in general due to the influence that tidal processes have in these habitats.  

 

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