Supervised accelerometry analysis can identify prey capture by penguins at sea

Gemma Carroll*, David Slip, Ian Jonsen, Rob Harcourt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Determining where, when and how much animals eat is fundamental to understanding their ecology. We developed a technique to identify a prey capture signature for little penguins from accelerometry, in order to quantify food intake remotely. We categorised behaviour of captive penguins from HD video and matched this to time-series data from back-mounted accelerometers. We then trained a support vector machine (SVM) to classify the penguins' behaviour at 0.3 s intervals as either 'prey handling' or 'swimming'. We applied this model to accelerometer data collected from foraging wild penguins to identify prey capture events. We compared prey capture and non-prey capture dives to test the model predictions against foraging theory. The SVM had an accuracy of 84.95±0.26% (mean ± s.e.) and a false positive rate of 9.82±0.24% when tested on unseen captive data. For wild data, we defined three independent, consecutive prey handling observations as representing true prey capture, with a false positive rate of 0.09%. Dives with prey captures had longer duration and bottom times, were deeper, had faster ascent rates, and had more 'wiggles' and 'dashes' (proxies for prey encounter used in other studies). The mean (±s.e.) number of prey captures per foraging trip was 446.6±66.28. By recording the behaviour of captive animals on HD video and using a supervised machine learning approach, we show that accelerometry signatures can classify the behaviour of wild animals at unprecedentedly fine scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4295-4302
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2014


  • Energetics
  • Eudyptula minor
  • Feeding
  • Foraging ecology
  • Machine learning
  • Penguin
  • Predation
  • Support vector machine


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