MSc 2005

Dr Andrew Trites

Modelling and characterization of Steller sea lion haulouts and rookeries using oceanographic and shoreline type data

Steller sea lions range across the Pacific rim from Southern California in the east to northern Japan in the west, where they have continuously occupied terrestrial resting sites (haulouts) and breeding sites (rookeries) for hundreds of years, if not longer. Why they choose (and stay) at these locations, and what their preferred habitat is, remains unknown. Thus, two aspects of the Steller sea lion’s habitat usage were examined—the oceanographic and the terrestrial. For the oceanographic aspect, spatial models were constructed to determine which oceanographic factors are associated with haulouts and rookeries, and how conditions near sites might differ from conditions elsewhere. The two modelling techniques employed (logistic regression and supervised classification) were evaluated using the kappa statistic (Kno), and receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) plots. Supervised classification was found to produce better-fitting models than logistic regression.

In general, Steller sea lions showed preferences for sites associated with waters that were relatively shallow, well-mixed, had higher average tidal speeds and less-steep bottom slopes. Conditions within 1 nautical mile of land were better predictors of haulout and rookery locations than were conditions within 10, 20, and 50 nautical miles. No consistent differences were found in the physical characteristics of waters surrounding sites in the eastern and western populations of Steller sea lions, or between haulouts and rookeries. Regarding the terrestrial aspect of their habitat, anecdotal accounts describe Steller sea lions as predominantly occupying exposed, rocky shorelines, but this habitat preference has never been quantified. Locations of haulouts and rookeries were compared against a coastline type database to identify the shoreline preferences of Steller sea lions and to look for other spatial trends in site characteristics. Haulouts and rookeries were preferentially located on exposed rocky shorelines and wave-cut platforms. No relationship was found between either latitude or longitude of a site and its average non-pup count.

The results indicate that there are differences in both the oceanographic and terrestrial characteristics of sites used by Steller sea lions versus areas of coastline where they are not found. The models could be used to predict changes in habitat use given changing physical conditions, and could be applied to any central-place forager.


Modelling and characterization of Steller sea lion haulouts and rookeries using oceanographic and shoreline type data. Ban, S. 2005. Graduate Thesis, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. 103 pages  (PDF)