Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 4, pp 741–751 | Cite as

Going deep: common murres dive into frigid water for aggregated, persistent and slow-moving capelin

  • April Hedd
  • P. M. Regular
  • W. A. Montevecchi
  • A. D. Buren
  • C. M. Burke
  • D. A. Fifield
Original Paper


Owing to the necessity of delivering food to offspring at colonies, breeding seabirds are highly constrained in their foraging options. To minimize constraints imposed by central-place foraging and to optimize foraging behavior, many species exhibit flexible foraging tactics. Here we document the behavioral flexibility of pursuit-diving common murres Uria aalge when foraging on female capelin Mallotus villosus in the northwest Atlantic. Quite unexpectedly, being visual foragers, we found that common murres dived throughout the day and night. Twenty-one percent of recorded dives (n = 272 of 1,308 dives) were deep (≥50 m; maximum depth = 152 m, maximum duration = 212 s), bringing murres into sub-0°C water in the Cold Intermediate Layer (CIL; 40–180 m) of the Labrador Current. Deep dives occurred almost exclusively during the day when murres would have encountered spatially predictable aggregations of capelin between 100 and 150 m in the water column. Temperatures within the CIL shaped trophic interactions and involved trade-offs for both predators and prey. Sub-0°C temperatures limit a fish’s ability to escape from endothermic predators by reducing burst/escape speeds and also lengthening the time needed to recover from burst-type activity. Thus, while deep diving may be energetically costly, it likely increases certainty of prey capture. Decreased murre foraging efficiency at night (indicated by an increase in the number of dives per bout) reflects both lower light conditions and changing prey behavior, as capelin migrate to warmer surface waters at night where their potential to escape from avian predators could increase.


Avian Predator Dive Depth Deep Dive Cold Intermediate Layer Warm Surface Water 



We thank Gail Davoren, Don Deibel, Garth Fletcher, Jack Lawson, Laura McFarlane-Tranquilla, Steven Peake, Paulette Penton, and Becky Sjare for discussions and helpful comments. We thank Dawn Marshall and Steven Carr for molecular sexing of the murres. Nick White and Peter Mallum helped with the field work at Gull Island. Research was supported by grants to W. A. M. from NSERC, the Murre Fund of the Newfoundland and Labrador Legacy Nature Trust and the Government of Canada’s Program for International Polar Year.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • April Hedd
    • 1
  • P. M. Regular
    • 1
  • W. A. Montevecchi
    • 1
  • A. D. Buren
    • 1
  • C. M. Burke
    • 1
  • D. A. Fifield
    • 1
  1. 1.Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology Program, Psychology DepartmentMemorial UniversitySt John’sCanada

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