Elephant seal diving behavior in shark-abundant ocean

Mentor & Lab: Roxanne Beltran – Beltran lab

Positions: 2 interns

dates: Spring and Summer 2022

Project location: Coastal Science Campus, with some day trips to Año Nuevo State Park

Project description: Elephant seals are top predators that fill a critical ecological role in pelagic ocean ecosystems. However, killer whales and white sharks are known to predate on elephant seals, and as a result, elephant seal behavior is thought to reflect this predation pressure. Specifically, elephant seals sleep at hundreds of meters underwater and appear to dive to the bottom of the ocean along the continental shelf when they depart and return to their breeding colony at Año Nuevo. Until now, no one has quantified active predator avoidance by elephant seals. This project will result in a publication-quality manuscript and presentation.

Intern duties: The CAMINO intern will analyze diving data in MATLAB or R to describe these benthic dives at the start and end of each foraging trip, and place these behavioral observations in the context of temporal and spatial predation pressure by killer whales and white sharks. Some fieldwork at Año Nuevo may be possible. Data will be obtained through Dan Costa’s lab and includes over 500 time-depth records from adult female seals. Some juvenile seal data may be included as well to look at ontogeny of these predator avoidance behaviors.

Intern qualifications: Intern must have prior experience working with elephant seals at Año Nuevo, experience doing field work and data entry in Microsoft Excel. Must be comfortable with strenuous activities outdoors, proficient in calculations, must have taken a statistics class and experience with reading research papers.

Do you recommend the intern(s) volunteer in your lab during Spring quarter?
Yes. The ideal candidate will have experience with elephant seal fieldwork and marine biology literature. The intern would be welcome to participate in extensive elephant seal fieldwork during the spring quarter if they so choose.

UC Santa Cruz Land Acknowledgement

The land from which we base our work is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.