Airborne remote sensing of a biological hot spot in the southeastern Bering Sea
Intense, ephemeral foraging events within localized hot spots represent important trophic transfers to top predators in marine ecosystems, though the spatial extent and temporal overlap of predators and prey are difficult to observe using traditional methods. The southeastern Bering Sea has high marine productivity along the shelf break, especially near marine canyons. At a hot spot located near Bering Canyon, we observed three foraging events over a 12 day period in June 2005. These were located by aerial surveys, quantified by airborne lidar and visual counts, and characterized by ship-based acoustics and net catches. Because of the high density of seabirds, the events could be seen in images from space-based synthetic aperture radar. The events developed at the shelf slope, adjacent to passes between the Aleutian Islands, persisted for 1 to 8 days, then abruptly disappeared. Build-up and break down of the events occurred on 24 hr time scales, and diameters ranged from 10 to 20 km. These events comprised large concentrations of euphausiids, copepods, herring, other small pelagic fishes, humpback whales, Dalls porpoise, short-tailed shearwaters, northern fulmars, and other pelagic seabirds. The lidar and acoustic remote sensing data demonstrated that prey densities inside the events were several times higher than those outside, indicating the importance of including events in forage fish surveys. This implies a need for either very intensive traditional surveys covering large expanses or for adaptive surveys guided by remote sensing. To our knowledge, this is the first time that an Alaskan hot spot was monitored with the combination of airborne and satellite remote sensing.