A hard-knock life: the foraging ecology of Cape cormorants amidst shifting prey resources and industrial fishing pressure
AbstractOnce one of the most numerous seabirds of the Benguela upwelling system, the population of Cape cormorants Phalacrocorax capensis has decreased by 60% in the past three decades and the species is listed as Near Threatened. Declines in prey availability and/or abundance brought about by recent changes in the distribution of pelagic fish stocks and industrial purse-seine fishing are hypothesised to be a key driver of seabird population decreases in the southern Benguela. We investigated the foraging behaviour of breeding Cape cormorants by deploying GPS and temperature–depth recorders on 24 breeding adults from three islands off the coast of South Africa, two of them to the north of Cape Point and a third farther south on the western Agulhas Bank. This provided the first measures of foraging dispersal by a cormorant in the Benguela system, and enabled a comparison of foraging behaviour between birds from these islands. Foraging trips of Cape cormorants lasted between 17 min and >7 h, at a maximum distance of between 2 and 58 km away from their colony. Foraging effort was significantly greater for birds from farther north off the West Coast in terms of trip duration, distance travelled, number of dives and time spent flying compared to those from the southernmost island (Dyer), which is probably a response to low prey availability in the north. Coastal reserves that exclude pelagic fishing from inshore feeding grounds around Cape cormorant breeding colonies may result in increased local prey availability, which would benefit Cape cormorant populations.
Keywords: activity budget, biotelemetry, coastal reserves, Engraulis encrasicolus, Phalacrocorax capensis, small pelagic fish
African Journal of Marine Science 2012, 34(2): 233–240