Predation in the Anthropocene: Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) Utilising Aquaculture Infrastructure as Refuge to Evade Foraging Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)

Emily L. Hague*, Nick McCaffrey, Rachel Shucksmith, Lauren McWhinnie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The rapid emergence of new marine developments (e.g., marine renewables, port infrastructure) alongside the substantial growth of existing industries has ultimately resulted in an unprecedented increase in anthropogenic structures within the marine environment over the previous century. Knowledge of whether marine species interact with, avoid, or accommodate and adapt to such structures is essential to ensure that further development of marine environments do not compromise conservation objectives of marine species. This article documents one such interaction. Herein, we describe the observation of a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) seeking refuge from a group of foraging killer whales (Orcinus orca) within a blue (aka common) mussel (Mytilus edulis) farm. Aerial video footage (38 min 27 s) was collected using an unmanned aerial system during an encounter at an aquaculture site in Gulberwick Bay, Shetland, UK. Analysis of the footage showed the killer whale group spent 73.7% of the total encounter time exhibiting predatory associated behaviours and that they were observed interacting with the mussel farm infrastructure only during “predation activity” for a total of 26 min 52 s (72.8%). The harbour seal interacted with the mussel farm infrastructure during re and proactive anti-predator behaviour and when exhibiting fatigue for 27 min 59 s, 94.4% of the total time the seal was observed. It is clear that both marine and terrestrial predator-prey interactions are increasingly occurring in settings that are in some way defined by the Anthropocene. The implications of this are discussed, including potential entanglement risk and human-altered “landscapes of fear.” As comprehension of the potential effects of human-altered risk grows, such knowledge should be taken into consideration prior to further modification of marine habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-393
Number of pages14
JournalAquatic Mammals
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2022


  • Aquaculture
  • Harbour seal
  • Killer whale
  • Manmade structure
  • Nthropocene
  • Orcinus orca
  • Phoca vitulina

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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