Tuna-Dolphin-Bird Feeding Assemblages in the Galapagos Islands and Their Response to the Physical Characteristics of the Upper Water Column
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Tuna-dolphin-bird feeding assemblages are unique to the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP). These multiple species groups are believed to forage together in response to the physical properties of the near surface ocean as these constrain the distribution of prey. In the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), intra-annual and interannual changes affect the properties of the water column, inducing mesoscale and fine scale temporal variability. Four three-week oceanographic surveys took place, in September 2008, April 2009, October 2009, and September 2010, between the coast of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and one small boat survey took place in June 2010 within the GMR. Marine mammal surveys were conducted during daylight hours and Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) sensor casts were taken throughout the survey. Data were analyzed to determine the types of water masses present and the strength and depth of the thermocline layer. These data were compared with the sightings of marine mammals, bird feeding groups, and tuna-dolphin-bird assemblages. Additionally, these data were used to predict where tuna would be likely to associate with dolphin groups. Results show Equatorial Surface Water was the dominant water mass throughout the archipelago, regardless of season or ENSO index. High salinity, cold water west of Isla Isabela indicated topographic upwelling of the Equatorial Undercurrent. Tropical Surface Waters from the Panama Current were detected north of the Equatorial Front to the east of the islands. Obvious changes in the water column properties were observed between El Niño and La Niña events in the GMR. Most mixed groups were sighted west and south of Isla Isabela during the four oceanographic surveys, as well as north and west of Isla San Cristobal in June 2010. Most sightings were in cool, high salinity waters, and high chlorophyll concentrations. There were a greater number of sightings during the April 2009 survey (ENSO-neutral conditions) than during any of the three fall surveys. Additionally, tuna-dolphin-bird groups were more likely to be seen near Isla Isabela, with the majority of them sighted during the April 2009 survey and a few sighted in each of the September 2008 and October 2009 surveys. No tuna-dolphin-bird groups were sighted during the September 2010 surveys. Results show that the presence and location of these multi-species groups may be controlled by the inter-annual cycles, the intra-annual cycles, or a combination of both types of changes seen within the Galapagos.
Johnston, Michelle (2011). Tuna-Dolphin-Bird Feeding Assemblages in the Galapagos Islands and Their Response to the Physical Characteristics of the Upper Water Column. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from