Sensing the seascape

This project focuses on a biodiversity hotspot and also a literal climatic hotspot on the area on and around Montague Island on the south-eastern coast of Australia. The work involves assessing the effects of climate change on predator and prey species in this ecosystem and to use this knowledge to guide policies on human activities in the area.

Our scientists have been tracking Little Penguins and Fur Seals from Montague Island each year using innovative techniques including a) GPS and conductivity, depth and temperature trackers to determine the oceanographic features of foraging locations and b) accelerometers to determine the animals’ activity when they are at sea. The behaviours (eg. feeding, swimming, prey handling) that generate a specific signal were defined by trials at Taronga. Records of wild penguin tracks are then coded using the model developed at Taronga and used to determine prey capture rates and locations for animals in the wild.

Analysing sea surface temperatures show that little penguins are moving to the cooler, more productive waters to feed, and the warm incursions of lower nutrient water from the East Australian Current are avoided. Our research demonstrates the link between food availability and ocean processes and will be important in predicting the impact of ocean warming and competition with fisheries and other human activities in the region on species such as the little penguin and fur seal.