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Hydrographic features, cetaceans and the foraging of thick-billed murres and other marine birds in the northwestern Barents Sea

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The at-sea distribution of thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) in southeastern Svalbard waters was studied during the summers of 1992, 1993, and 1996. The Storfjordrenna region south of Svalbard was confirmed as an important foraging area for thick-billed murres; murre aggregations were located at distances of 85 to 126 km from the closest breeding colonies. Fish, mainly polar cod (Boreogadus saida), but also capelin (Mallotus villosus), were the main prey found in 16 murres and 3 black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) collected from these aggregations. Murres were seen flying with fish in their beaks at four locations 78 to 102 km away from the colonies. Murre aggregations were associated with frontal zones between cold Arctic waters and warmer Atlantic water, and in areas with strong stratification in salinity at 15-30 m. A positive association was found between the abundance of murres and the occurrence of cetaceans. Murres and other marine birds were often seen near surfacing cetaceans. The most common cetaceans were minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris).

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