Skip to main content


Log in

Prey capture attempts can be detected in Steller sea lions and other marine predators using accelerometers

  • Short Note
  • Published:
Polar Biology Aims and scope Submit manuscript


We attached accelerometers to the head and jaw of a Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) to determine whether feeding attempts in a controlled setting could be quantified by acceleration features characteristic of head and jaw movements. Most of the 19 experimental feeding events that occurred during the 51 dives recorded resulted in specific acceleration patterns that were clearly distinguishable from swimming accelerations. The differential acceleration between the head-mounted and jaw-mounted accelerometers detected 84% of prey captures on the vertical axis and 89% on the horizontal axis. However, the jaw-mounted accelerometer alone proved to be equally effective at detecting prey capture attempts. Acceleration along the horizontal (surge)-axis appeared to be particularly efficient in detecting prey captures, and suggests that a single accelerometer placed under the jaw of a pinniped is a promising and easily implemented means of recording prey capture attempts.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  • Ancel A, Horning M, Kooyman GL (1997) Prey ingestion revealed by oesophagus and stomach temperature recordings in cormorants. J Exp Biol 200:149–154

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Austin D, Bowen WD, McMillan JI, Boness DJ (2006) Stomach temperature telemetry reveals temporal patterns of foraging success in a free-ranging marine mammal. J Anim Ecol 75:408–420. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2006.01057.x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Baechler J, Beck CA, Bowen WD (2002) Dive shapes reveal temporal changes in the foraging behaviour of different age and sex classes of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina). Can J Zool 80:1569–1577. doi:10.1139/z02-150

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowen WD, Tully D, Boness DJ, Bulheier BM, Marshall GJ (2002) Prey-dependent foraging tactics and prey profitability in a marine mammal. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 244:235–245. doi:10.3354/meps244235

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyd IL (1996) Temporal scales of foraging in a marine predator. Ecology 77:426–434. doi:10.2307/2265619

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Charrassin JB, Kato A, Handrich Y, Sato K, Naito Y, Ancel A, Bost CA, Gauthier-Clerc M, Ropert-Coudert Y, Le Maho Y (2001) Feeding behaviour of free-ranging penguins determined by oesophageal temperature. Proc R Soc Lond B 268:151–157. doi:10.1098/rspb.2000.1343

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Guinet C, Dubroca L, Lea M-A, Goldsworthy SD, Cherel Y, Duhamel G, Bonadonna F, Donnay JP (2001) Spatial distribution of foraging in female Antarctic fur seals Arctocephallus gazella in relation to oceanographic variables: a scale-dependent approach using geographic information systems. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 219:251–264

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liebsch N, Wilson RP, Bornemann H, Adelung D, Plötz J (2007) Mouthing off about fish capture: jaw movement in pinnipeds reveals the real secrets of ingestion. Deep-Sea Res II 54:256–269. doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2006.11.014

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Naito Y (2007) A new animal-borne digital still camera (DSL): Its functions and applications to marine mammal science. In: Marshall G (ed) Proceedings of the 2007 animal-borne imaging symposium. National Geographic Society, Washington D.C., pp 201–207

  • NMFS (2008) Recovery plan for the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus). Revision. National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, p 325

    Google Scholar 

  • R Development Core Team (2009) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. ISBN 3-900051-07-0, URL

  • Ropert-Coudert Y, Kato A (2006) Are stomach temperature recorders a useful tool for determining feeding activity? Polar Biosci 20:63–72

    Google Scholar 

  • Ropert-Coudert Y, Kato A, Liebsch N, Wilson RP, Müller G, Baubet E (2004) Monitoring jaw movements: a cue to feeding activity. Game Wildl Sci 20:1–19

    Google Scholar 

  • Ropert-Coudert Y, Kato A, Wilson RP, Cannell B (2006) Foraging strategies and prey encounter rate of free-ranging little penguins. Mar Biol 149:139–148. doi:10.1007/s00227-005-0188-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sato K, Daunt F, Watanuki Y, Takahashi A, Wanless S (2008) A new method to quantify prey acquisition in diving seabirds using wing stroke frequency. J Exp Biol 211:58–65. doi:10.1242/jeb.009811

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Suzuki I, Naito Y, Folkow LP, Miyazaki N, Blix AS (2009) Validation of a device for accurate timing of feeding events in marine animals. Polar Biol 32:667–671. doi:10.1007/s00300-009-0596-3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trites AW, Larkin PA (1996) Changes in the abundance of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in Alaska from 1956 to 1992: how many were there? Aquatic Mammals 22:153–166

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson RP, Cooper J, Plotz J (1992) Can we determine when marine endotherms feed? A case study with seabirds. J Exp Biol 167:267–275

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson RP, Steinfurth A, Ropert-Coudert Y, Kato A, Kurita M (2002) Lip-reading in remote subjects: an attempt to quantify and separate ingestion, breathing and vocalisation in free-living animals using penguins as a model. Mar Biol 140:17–27

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We gratefully thank Chad Nordstrom, Rebecca Barrick, and the trainers that helped us at the Vancouver Aquarium. This study was supported in part by grants to the North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium from the North Pacific Marine Science Foundation and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Morgane Viviant.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Viviant, M., Trites, A.W., Rosen, D.A.S. et al. Prey capture attempts can be detected in Steller sea lions and other marine predators using accelerometers. Polar Biol 33, 713–719 (2010).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: