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The political biogeography of migratory marine predators


During their migrations, marine predators experience varying levels of protection and face many threats as they travel through multiple countries’ jurisdictions and across ocean basins. Some populations are declining rapidly. Contributing to such declines is a failure of some international agreements to ensure effective cooperation by the stakeholders responsible for managing species throughout their ranges, including in the high seas, a global commons. Here we use biologging data from marine predators to provide quantitative measures with great potential to inform local, national and international management efforts in the Pacific Ocean. We synthesized a large tracking data set to show how the movements and migratory phenology of 1,648 individuals representing 14 species—from leatherback turtles to white sharks—relate to the geopolitical boundaries of the Pacific Ocean throughout species’ annual cycles. Cumulatively, these species visited 86% of Pacific Ocean countries and some spent three-quarters of their annual cycles in the high seas. With our results, we offer answers to questions posed when designing international strategies for managing migratory species.

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Fig. 1: Daily locations of marine predators electronically tracked within EEZs and the high seas of the Pacific Ocean.
Fig. 2: Seasonal probability of marine predator occurrence in Pacific Ocean EEZs and the high seas from electronic tracking.
Fig. 3: Population differences in western Pacific leatherback sea turtle use of EEZs and the high seas.


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This article is a product of the Census of Marine Life Tagging of the TOPP Project. Funding for this work was provided by the Sloan Foundation’s Census of Marine Life programme. TOPP research was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation with additional support from the Office of Naval Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Programme under contract from the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers, donors to the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation. A.-L.H. was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) M.R.C. Greenwood Fellowship in Interdisciplinary Environmental Research, a UCSC Graduate Division Dissertation Year Fellowship, the UCSC Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, the UCSC Center for the Dynamics and Evolution of the Land-Sea Interface, the American Cetacean Society, Monterey Bay Chapter, a UCSC Marilyn C. and Raymond E. Davis Memorial Scholarship Professional Development Award, the Institute for Parks at Clemson University, and by the ConocoPhillips Global Signature Programme. We thank the TOPP scientific teams and all those who contributed to tag deployment efforts, including international partners in Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands, the numerous captains and crews who provided ship time and logistical support, the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Hawaii, and many graduate students and undergraduate researchers and volunteers. We thank the TOPP data management team (A. Swithenbank, J.E. Ganong and M. Castleton) and the Future of Marine Animal Populations Project of the Census of Marine Life (FMAP) tracking data modelling and compilation team (I.D. Jonsen and G.A. Breed). Earlier versions of this article were improved by discussions with B. Abrahms, A.M. Boustany, M.H. Carr, M. Dias and P.P. Marra.

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This study was conceived by A.-L.H. The TOPP project was designed and coordinated by B.A.B., D.P.C. and S.J.B. B.A.B., A.B.C., H.D., S.J.J., S.K., K.M.S., G.L.S and K.C.W. designed the experiments and deployed the electronic tags on fish and sharks. S.R.B., P.H.D., G.L.S. and B.A.B., designed the experiments and deployed the electronic tags on leatherback sea turtles. D.P.C., P.W.R., S.E.S. and B.R.M. designed the experiments and deployed the electronic tags on marine mammals. S.A.S. and M.A. designed the experiments and deployed the electronic tags on seabirds. Analyses were conducted by A.-L.H. and A.J.W. Figures were created by A.-L.H. The manuscript was drafted by A.-L.H. and edited by D.P.C., A.J.W., S.R.B., S.J.B., A.B.C., H.D., P.H.D, S.J.J., M.A., S.K., S.A.S., K.M.S., G.L.S., S.E.S., K.C.W. and B.A.B.

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Correspondence to Autumn-Lynn Harrison.

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Kristina Gjerde is an unpaid member of the Sargasso Sea Project, Inc. Board, the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative Scientific Steering Committee, the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative Executive Board, the High Seas Alliance Steering Committee, and the Deep Ocean Observing Strategy Scientific Steering Committee.

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Harrison, AL., Costa, D.P., Winship, A.J. et al. The political biogeography of migratory marine predators. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1571–1578 (2018).

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