Raking the ocean surface : new patterns of coordinated motion in seabirds

Camille Assali, Nicolas Bez, Yann Tremblay

23 March 2020

Coordinated movements of seabirds exploiting a prey patch are known to increase prey encounter and capture rates of individuals. These behaviours, based on effective cooperation between seabirds, have only been reported at small scale, i.e. the scale of the prey patch. However, the efficient prey exploitation by seabirds in vast oceans require larger scale processes such as information transfers between individuals. Indeed, information transfers between foraging seabirds (e.g. changes in behaviour) reduce their search cost while increasing their prey encounter rate. Whether or not these information transfer processes imply active cooperation is unknown. Using images from fishing boat radars in the eastern tropical Atlantic, we show the existence of frequent medium‐scale patterns of coordinated flights of seabird groups, consisting in seabird fronts (“rake” patterns) of 0.3 to 4.4 km width, displacing cohesively over 1.2 to 10.6 km and lasting between 2 and 19 min. For these rakes to be maintained, seabird groups have to adjust their flight speeds and directions, while they are on average distant of 500 m from each other, what cannot occur by chance. These findings suggest the existence of collective and coordinated movements in seabirds during prey searching at several kilometres' scale. This potential cooperation between foraging seabird groups brings new insight in the evolutionary trajectories of seabirds life‐style.