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How Marine Predators Find Food Hot Spots in Open Ocean “Deserts”

Woods Hole, MA – A new study led by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory (UW APL) finds that marine predators, such as tunas, billfishes and sharks, aggregate in anticyclonic, clockwise-rotating ocean eddies (mobile, coherent bodies of water). As these anticyclonic eddies move throughout the open ocean, the study suggests that the predators are also moving with them, foraging on the high deep-ocean biomass contained within.

The findings were published today in Nature.

“We discovered that anticyclonic eddies – rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere – were associated with increased pelagic predator catch compared with eddies rotating counter-clockwise and regions outside eddies,” said Dr. Martin Arostegui, WHOI postdoctoral scholar and paper lead-author. “Increased predator abundance in these eddies is probably driven by predator selection for habitats hosting better feeding opportunities.”

The study included collaborators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. It focused on more than 20 years of commercial fishery and satellite data collected from the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre – a vast region that is nutrient-poor but supports predator fishes that are central to the economic and food security of Pacific Islands nations and communities.

The research team assessed an ecologically diverse community of predators varying in latitudes, ocean depths, and physiologies (cold vs. warm-blooded).

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