CIE Spotlight: Use of Anthropogenic Sea Floor Structures by Australian Fur Seals: Potential Positive Ecological Impacts of Marine Industrial Development?

John A., Jacquomo M. and Daniel I.

John A., Jacquomo M. and Daniel I.

Title: Use of Anthropogenic Sea Floor Structures by Australian Fur Seals: Potential Positive Ecological Impacts of Marine Industrial Development?

Authors: Arnould, John P. Y.; Monk, Jacquomo; Ierodiaconou, Daniel; Hindell, Mark A.; Semmens, Jayson; Hoskins, Andrew J.; Costa, Daniel P.; Abernathy, Kyler; Marshall, Greg J.

Source: PLOS ONE, 10 (7), JUL 1 2015

Brief summary of the paper: Human-induced changes to habitats can have deleterious effects on many species that occupy them. However, some species can adapt and even benefit from such modifications.

Artificial reefs have long been used to provide habitat for invertebrate communities and promote local fish populations. With the increasing demand for energy resources within ocean systems, there has been an expansion of infrastructure in near-shore benthic environments which function asde facto artificial reefs.

Little is known of their use by marine mammals. In this study, the influence of anthropogenic sea floor structures (pipelines, cable routes, wells and shipwrecks) on the foraging locations of 36 adult female Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) was investigated.

For 9 (25%) of the individuals, distance to anthropogenic sea floor structures was the most important factor in determining the location of intensive foraging activity. Whereas the influence of anthropogenic sea floor structures on foraging locations was not related to age and mass, it was positively related to flipper length/standard length (a factor which can affect manoeuvrability).

A total of 26 (72%) individuals tracked with GPS were recorded spending time in the vicinity of structures (from <1% to >75% of the foraging trip duration) with pipelines and cable routes being the most frequented. No relationships were found between the amount of time spent frequenting anthropogenic structures and individual characteristics. More than a third (35%) of animals foraging near anthropogenic sea floor structures visited more than one type of structure.

These results further highlight potentially beneficial ecological outcomes of marine industrial development.