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Ecology of selected marine communities in Glacier Bay: Zooplankton, forage fish, seabirds and marine mammals

January 1, 2003

We studied oceanography (including primary production), secondary production, small schooling fish (SSF), and marine bird and mammal predators in Glacier Bay during 1999 and 2000. Results from these field efforts were combined with a review of current literature relating to the Glacier Bay environment. Since the conceptual model developed by Hale and Wright (1979) ‘changes and cycles’ continue to be the underlying theme of the Glacier Bay ecosystem. We found marked seasonality in many of the parameters that we investigated over the two years of research, and here we provide a comprehensive description of the distribution and relative abundance of a wide array of marine biota.

Glacier Bay is a tidally mixed estuary that leads into basins, which stratify in summer, with the upper arms behaving as traditional estuaries. The Bay is characterized by renewal and mixing events throughout the year, and markedly higher primary production than in many neighboring southeast Alaska fjords (Hooge and Hooge, 2002).

Zooplankton diversity and abundance within the upper 50 meters of the water column in Glacier Bay is similar to communities seen throughout the Gulf of Alaska. Zooplankton in the lower regions of Glacier Bay peak in abundance in late May or early June, as observed at Auke Bay and in the Gulf of Alaska. The key distinction between the lower Bay and other estuaries in the Gulf of Alaska is that a second smaller peak in densities occurs in August. The upper Bay behaved uniformly in temporal trends, peaking in July. Densities had begun to decline in August, but were still more than twice those observed in that region in May. The highest density of zooplankton observed was 17,870 organisms/m3 in Tarr Inlet during July. Trends in zooplankton community abundance and diversity within the lower Bay were distinct from upper-Glacier Bay trends. Whereas the lower Bay is strongly influenced by Gulf of Alaska processes, local processes are the strongest influence in the upper-Bay.

We identified 55 species of fish during this study (1999 and 2000) from beach seines, mid-water trawls, and rod and line catches. The diversity of physical, oceanographic, and glacial chronological conditions within Glacier Bay contribute a suite of factors that influence the distribution and abundance of fish. Accordingly, we observed significant differences in the abundance and distribution of fish within the Bay. Most significantly, abundance and diversity (primarily juvenile fish including walleye Pollock, eelblennies, and capelin) were greatest at the head of both the east and west arms where zooplankton abundance was greatest – in close proximity to tidewater glaciers and freshwater runoff.

All of Glacier Bay and Icy Strait were surveyed hydroacoustically for plankton and fish during June 1999 surveys. Acoustically determined forage biomass was concentrated in relatively few important areas such as Pt. Adolphus, Berg Bay, on the Geikie-Scidmore shelf, around the Beardslee/Marble islands, and the upper arms of Glacier Bay. Forage biomass (primarily small schooling fish and euphausiids) was concentrated in shallow, nearshore waters; 50 % of acoustic biomass was found at depths < 35m, 80 % of biomass at depths < 80m. During our sampling, high density patches of prey were very rare, and less than 8 % of the area surveyed in Glacier Bay contained patch densities suitable (e.g., > 0.01 fish/m3) for seabirds foraging on zooplankton and small schooling fish. Less than 1 % of the area contained patches suitable (e.g., >0.1 fish/m3) for whales foraging on zooplankton and small schooling fish. High-density aggregations of 0.1-10 fish/m3 were comprised mostly of schools containing capelin, pollock, herring or euphausiids (0.1-1 kg/m3).

During predator surveys (1999-2000), we observed 63 species of birds and 7 species of marine mammals. Seasonal distribution and abundance of these “apex” predators was highly variable by species. Glacier Bay supports high numbers of seabirds and marine mammals that consume zooplankton and small schooling fish. Nearshore areas had higher densities of both birds and marine mammals. Several areas, such as Pt. Adolphus, Berg Bay, on the Geikie-Scidmore shelf, the Beardslee/Marble islands, and the upper arms of Glacier Bay were focal points of small schooling fish and zooplankton consuming marine birds and mammals. Comparisons between surveys and a prior study (1991) suggested that the assemblage of birds and marine mammals in the Bay is undergoing change. Most notable was a clear decline in Brachyramphus spp. murrelets while other apex species are increasing or remaining stable.

It should be noted that many of the birds and mammals observed during this project, e.g. mergansers, do not forage on zooplankton and small schooling fish; rather they forage on benthic fish and sessile invertebrates. While distribution and sampling data for these marine predator species are valid, this study did not sample benthic fish and sessile invertebrates. Thus, recommendations made by this project should be interpreted as generally specific to the zooplankton/small schooling fish marine food web components of the Glacier Bay Ecosystem.

Publication Year 2003
Title Ecology of selected marine communities in Glacier Bay: Zooplankton, forage fish, seabirds and marine mammals
Authors Martin D. Robards, Gary S. Drew, John F. Piatt, Jennifer Marie Anson, Alisa A. Abookire, James L. Bodkin, Philip N. Hooge, Suzann G. Speckman
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Index ID 70187629
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center