Marine Biology (2018)

DOI: 10.1007/s00227-018-3346-7


Quantifying intraspecific variation in movement behaviour of marine predators and the underlying environmental drivers is important to inform conservation management of protected species. Here, we provide the first empirical data on fine-scale movements of free-ranging harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in their natural habitat. Data were obtained from six individuals, tagged in two areas of the Danish North Sea, that were equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) and dive recorder units (V-tags). We used multi-model inference and model averaging to evaluate the relative importance of various static and dynamic environmental conditions on the movement characteristics: speed, turning angle, dive duration, dive depth, dive wiggliness (a proxy for prey chasing behaviour), and post-dive duration. Despite substantial individual differences in horizontal and vertical movement patterns, we found that all the tracked porpoises responded similar to variation in environmental conditions and displayed movements that indicate a higher likelihood of foraging behaviour in shallower and more saline waters. Our study contributes to the identification of important feeding areas for porpoises and can be used to improve existing movement-based simulation models that aim to assess the impact of anthropogenic disturbance on harbour porpoise populations.