Ocean currents are in continuous motion and strongly influence oceanic ecosystems. In situ observation of currents is of primary importance for understanding how marine animals respond to ocean surface currents at various scales and for realizing effective ecosystem-based management and realistic oceanographic modelling. We developed a new method for obtaining in situ current measurements by using seabirds as Lagrangian current sensors akin to drifting buoys. We deployed high-resolution global positioning system (GPS) loggers on streaked shearwaters (Calonectris leucomelas) foraging in the Oyashio-Tsugaru Warm Current confluence in Japan, which is one of the most productive oceans in the world. The seabirds repeatedly performed foraging trips, including searching for prey and resting on the sea surface, over several hundred kilometres. The seabirds spent half of their time resting on the water surface and tended to be passive drifters. We inferred that the drift movements of C. leucomelas provided a direct and detailed description of the ocean surface currents, because currents deduced from their drift movements were in good agreement with ocean surface currents derived from in situ and satellite data. In addition, we extracted details of shearwaters' intense searching flights associated with feeding (i.e. foraging spots) from GPS tracks. C. leucomelas did not forage at the core of anticyclonic eddies; rather, they used the boundary areas between eddies and the edge of eddies where primary productivity and prey density are thought to be high. Our study demonstrated that animal-borne GPS data can provide a detailed and cost-efficient tool for observing ocean surface currents and can reveal the ways in which marine animals respond to these currents at a fine scale.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Aquatic Science