Ineffectiveness of light emitting diodes as underwater deterrents for Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis
Gillnet bycatch accounts for over 400,000 bird mortalities worldwide every year, affecting a wide variety of species, especially those birds that dive when foraging. Technological solutions to improve gillnet visibility or deter birds from approaching nets, such as LED lights, are essential for aiding diving birds to perceive nets as a hazard. Designing such solutions requires obtaining visual and behavioural ecology information from species to assess their ability to see the warning devices, and to examine their behavioural responses to them. Seaducks, particularly Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis, have high bycatch mortality rates. We examined the visual fields of four Long-tailed Ducks to understand their three-dimensional view around the head. The visual field characteristics of this species indicate a reliance on visual guidance for foraging associated with their capture of varied, mobile prey in their generalist diet. We subsequently conducted dive tank trials to test the effectiveness of 12 different LED treatments as visual deterrents to the underwater foraging behaviour of 8 Long-tailed Ducks. During each trial, ducks were offered food rewards from a specific underwater location in a dive tank, having the choice of whether to take the food or not. At the same time, they were exposed to either one LED light or the control (no light) to determine whether the presence of each light affected the foraging success rate of dives compared to the control. Exposure of ducks to all 13 treatment combinations was randomised over the trial period. White lights with an increasing flash rate were shown to have a significant positive effect on foraging success, and likely acted as a visual attractant, rather than as a deterrent. No light treatment significantly reduced the foraging success of ducks. LED lights did not inhibit the feeding of Long-tailed Ducks. Such lights may be ineffective as underwater visual deterrents when deployed on gillnets, while white flashing lights may make foraging sites more attractive to Long-tailed Ducks.