Vulnerability of a top marine predator to coastal storms: a relationship between hydrodynamic drivers and stranding rates of newborn pinnipeds

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2020

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Springer Nature

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Escuela de Ingenieria Civil Oceanica

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Coastal storms have increased in recent decades, affecting many species, including the South American sea lion (Otaria byronia). Reports of stranded sea lion pups are becoming common in Chile, presumably due to the increase in the frequency and intensity of coastal storms. To validate this assumption, a 10-year database was built by coupling wave generation and coastal propagation models to correlate pure wave parameters (significant wave height Hs, peak period Tp, normalized wave power Hs2 Tp) and wave parameters including the tidal level (maximum surface elevation η, modified wave power η2 Tp) with records of stranded pups in Cobquecura, the largest breeding colony in central Chile. The correlation between the number of pups stranded per day and wave parameters in the first half of January and the last half of February is poor, while they are stronger for the second half of January and the first half of February. The higher number of stranded pups coincide with coastal storms with normalized wave power values exceeding a threshold of 100 m2/ s. Conversely, below this threshold there is wide dispersion between the number of strandings and wave parameters. Identifying wave parameter thresholds could be used to predict when newborn pups will be most affected by coastal storms, and thus help institutions to develop remediation techniques for animals at risk.

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