Spatio-temporal Variation in Glacier Ice as Habitat for Harbor Seals in an Alaskan Tidewater Glacier Fjord

Jamie N Womble, Robert McNabb, Rudiger Gens, Anupma Prakash

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Some of the largest aggregations of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) in Alaska occur in tidewater glacier fjords where seals rest upon icebergs that are calved from tidewater glaciers into the marine environment. The distribution, amount, and size of floating ice in fjords are likely important factors influencing the spatial distribution and abundance of harbor seals; however, fine-scale characteristics of ice habitat that are used by seals have not been quantified using automated methods. We quantified the seasonal changes in ice habitat for harbor seals in Johns Hopkins Inlet, a tidewater glacier fjord in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, using aerial photography, object-based image analysis, and spatial models. Aerial photographic surveys (n = 53) were conducted of seals and ice during the whelping (June) and molting (August) seasons from 2007-2014. Surveys were flown along a grid of 12 transects and high-resolution digital photos were taken directly under the plane using a vertically aimed camera. Seal abundance and spatial distribution was consistently higher during June (range: 1,672-4,340) than August (range: 1,075-2,582) and corresponded to the spatial distribution and amount of ice. Preliminary analyses from 2007 suggest that the average percent of icebergs (ice ≥ than 1.6m2) and brash ice (ice < 1.6m2) per scene were greater in June (icebergs: 1.8% ± 1.6%; brash ice: 43.8% ± 38.9%) than August (icebergs: 0.2% ± 0.7%; brash ice; 15.8% ± 26.4%). Iceberg angularity (an index of iceberg shape) was also greater in June (1.7 ± 0.9) than August (0.9 ± 0.9). Potential factors that may influence the spatio-temporal variation in ice habitat for harbor seals in tidewater glacier fjords include frontal ablation rates of glaciers, fjord circulation, and local winds. Harbor seals exhibit high seasonal fidelity to tidewater glacier fjords, thus understanding the relationships between glacier dynamics and harbor seal distribution will be critical for understanding how future changes in tidewater glaciers may impact harbor seals.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2015
EventAGU Fall Meeting 2015 -
Duration: 14 Dec 201518 Dec 2015


ConferenceAGU Fall Meeting 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Spatio-temporal Variation in Glacier Ice as Habitat for Harbor Seals in an Alaskan Tidewater Glacier Fjord'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this