Understanding the variability of foraging behavior within a population of predators is important for determining their role in the ecosystem and how they may respond to future ecosystem changes. However, such variability has seldom been studied in harbor seals on a fine spatial scale (<30 km). We used a combination of standard and Bayesian generalized linear mixed models to explore how environmental variables influenced the dive behavior of harbor seals. Time-depth recorders were deployed on harbor seals from two haul-out sites in the Salish Sea in 2007 (n = 18) and 2008 (n = 11). Three behavioral bout types were classified from six dive types within each bout; however, one of these bout types was related to haul-out activity and was excluded from analyses. Deep foraging bouts (Type I) were the predominant type used throughout the study; however, variation in the use of bout types was observed relative to haul-out site, season, sex, and light (day/night). The proportional use of Type I and Type II (shallow foraging/traveling) bouts differed dramatically between haul-out sites, seasons, sexes, and whether it was day or night; individual variability between seals also contributed to the observed differences. We hypothesize that this variation in dive behavior was related to habitat or prey specialization by seals from different haul-out sites, or individual variability between seals in the study area. The results highlight the potential influence of habitat and specialization on the foraging behavior of harbor seals, and may help explain the variability in diet that is observed between different haul-out site groups in this population.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/alejandro_acevedo-gutierrez/6/