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High mortality rates in a juvenile free-ranging marine predator and links to dive and forage ability


Cox, Sam L et al. (2019), High mortality rates in a juvenile free-ranging marine predator and links to dive and forage ability, Dryad, Dataset,


1. High juvenile mortality rates are typical of many long-lived marine vertebrate predators. Insufficient development in dive and forage ability are considered key drivers of this. However, direct links to survival outcome are sparse, particularly in free-ranging marine animals that may not return to land.

2. In this study, we conduct exploratory investigations toward early mortality in juvenile southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina. 20 post-weaning pups were equipped with (1) a new generation satellite relay data tag, capable of remotely transmitting fine-scale behavioural movements from accelerometers, and (2) a location transmitting only tag (so that mortality events could be distinguished from device failures). Individuals were followed during their first trip at sea (until mortality or return to land). Two analyses were conducted. First, the behavioural movements and encountered environmental conditions of non-surviving pups were individually compared to temporally concurrent observations from grouped survivors. Second, common causes of mortality were investigated using Cox’s proportional hazard regression and penalised shrinkage techniques.

3. Nine individuals died (two females and seven males) and 11 survived (eight females and three males). All but one individual died before the return phase of their first trip at sea, and all but one were negatively buoyant. Causes of death were variable, although common factors included increased horizontal travel speeds, decreased development in dive and forage ability, and habitat type visited (lower sea surface temperatures and decreased total (eddy) kinetic energy).

4. For long-lived marine vertebrate predators, such as the southern elephant seal, the first few months of life following independence represent a critical period, when small deviations in behaviour from the norm appear sufficient to increase mortality risk. Survival rates may subsequently be particularly vulnerable to changes in climate and environment, which will have concomitant consequences on the demography and dynamics of populations.




Biologging data associated with the linked article, "High mortality rates in a juvenile free-ranging marine predator and links to dive and forage ability", in Ecology and Evolution.

File descriptions:

survivalBaseData_locationsHourly_bsam.csv - hourly location outputs from state space model as detailed in Methods section of article and Supplementary Materials S.2.

survivalBaseData_diveMetrics.csv - near raw dive data transmitted form DSA tas.

survivalBaseData_bodyConditions.csv - predicted body conditions used in study - as calculated according to Supplementary Materials S.3.

processedData_survivalAnalysis_fullTrips.csv - processed data (as described in the Methods section of the article) used in comparative and statistical analyses.


FP7 Ideas: European Research Council, Award: FP7/2007–2013/ERC-2012-ADG_20120314

Institut Polaire Français Paul Emile Victor, Award: Program 109