Pelagic marine predators face unprecedented challenges and uncertain futures. Overexploitation and climate variability impact the abundance and distribution of top predators in ocean ecosystems1,2,3,4. Improved understanding of ecological patterns, evolutionary constraints and ecosystem function is critical for preventing extinctions, loss of biodiversity and disruption of ecosystem services. Recent advances in electronic tagging techniques have provided the capacity to observe the movements and long-distance migrations of animals in relation to ocean processes across a range of ecological scales5,6. Tagging of Pacific Predators, a field programme of the Census of Marine Life, deployed 4,306 tags on 23 species in the North Pacific Ocean, resulting in a tracking data set of unprecedented scale and species diversity that covers 265,386 tracking days from 2000 to 2009. Here we report migration pathways, link ocean features to multispecies hotspots and illustrate niche partitioning within and among congener guilds. Our results indicate that the California Current large marine ecosystem and the North Pacific transition zone attract and retain a diverse assemblage of marine vertebrates. Within the California Current large marine ecosystem, several predator guilds seasonally undertake north–south migrations that may be driven by oceanic processes, species-specific thermal tolerances and shifts in prey distributions. We identify critical habitats across multinational boundaries and show that top predators exploit their environment in predictable ways, providing the foundation for spatial management of large marine ecosystems.

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This manuscript is the culmination of a Census of Marine Life cross-project synthesis between TOPP and Future of Marine Animal Populations (FMAP). Funding for this work was provided by the Sloan Foundation’s Census of Marine Life programme. TOPP research was funded by the Sloan, Packard and Moore foundations. FMAP was funded by the Sloan Foundation. Electronic tagging and tracking in TOPP was also supported by the Office of Naval Research, the NOAA, the E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP under contract from the OGP, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation. We thank the TOPP scientific teams and all those who supported animal tagging efforts, R. Kochevar and D. Kohrs for their dedication and their effort on behalf of the Census of Marine Life. We are grateful to the numerous captains and crews who provided ship time and logistical support, and to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Hawaii for further logistical support. We thank the Mexican authorities and collaborating TOPP partners (O. Sosa-Nishizki) for permitting and assisting in research in their waters. All animal research was conducted in accordance with IACUC protocols from Stanford University and the University of California.

Author information


  1. Stanford University, Biology Department, Hopkins Marine Station, Pacific Grove, California 93950, USA

    • B. A. Block
    • , S. J. Jorgensen
    • , J. E. Ganong
    • , A. Swithenbank
    • , M. Castleton
    •  & G. L. Shillinger
  2. Dalhousie University, Department of Biology, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada

    • I. D. Jonsen
    • , A. J. Winship
    •  & G. A. Breed
  3. San Jose State University, Department of Biological Sciences, San Jose, California 95192, USA

    • S. A. Shaffer
  4. NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Environmental Research Division, Pacific Grove, California 93950, USA

    • S. J. Bograd
    • , E. L. Hazen
    •  & D. G. Foley
  5. University of California, Santa Cruz, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Long Marine Laboratory, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA

    • G. A. Breed
    • , A.-L. Harrison
    • , M. J. Weise
    • , R. W. Henry
    •  & D. P. Costa
  6. NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Fisheries Research Division, La Jolla, California 92037, USA

    • H. Dewar
  7. Oregon State University, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Newport, Oregon 97365, USA

    • B. R. Mate
  8. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, La Jolla, California 92037, USA

    • K. M. Schaefer
  9. NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Protected Resources Division, La Jolla, California 92037, USA

    • S. R. Benson


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This synthesis study was initiated by B.A.B. and I.D.J. The TOPP project was designed and coordinated by B.A.B., D.P.C. and S.J.B. B.A.B., S.J.J., H.D. and K.M.S. designed experiments and deployed electronic tags on fish and sharks. D.P.C., S.A.S., R.W.H., M.J.W. and B.R.M. designed experiments and deployed electronic tags on marine mammals and birds. G.L.S., B.A.B. and S.R.B. designed experiments and deployed electronic tags on sea turtles. Tracking data were compiled by S.J.J., S.A.S., G.A.B., A.-L.H., B.A.B., G.L.S. and M.C. Data management was coordinated by A.S. and J.E.G. Oceanographic data were compiled by S.J.B., E.L.H. and D.G.F. Analyses were conducted by A.J.W., S.J.J., I.D.J., G.A.B, E.L.H., D.G.F., A.-L.H., J.E.G. and A.S. Figures were created by B.A.B., M.C., A.-L.H., I.D.J., S.J.J., A.J.W., J.E.G., A.S., E.L.H. and D.G.F. The manuscript was drafted by B.A.B. and edited by I.D.J., D.P.C., S.J.J., S.A.S., S.J.B., E.L.H., A.-L.H., A.J.W., H.D., G.L.S. and B.R.M.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to B. A. Block.

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