ESR 25:265-281 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00631

Energy content of Pacific salmon as prey of northern and southern resident killer whales

Sandra M. O’Neill1,3,*, Gina M. Ylitalo1, James E. West2

1Environmental and Fisheries Science Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2725 Montlake Blvd. E., Seattle, WA 98112, USA
2Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091, USA
3Present address: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Recovery of depleted species is difficult, but it can be especially complex when the target species interacts strongly with other depleted species. Such is the case for northern and southern resident killer whales Orcinus orca which are listed as ‘endangered’ under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Canada’s Species at Risk Act. These resident killer whales prey heavily on Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp., including several ‘evolutionarily significant units’ also listed under the ESA. In response to concerns that a depleted prey base may affect killer whale recovery, we analyzed proximate composition and calculated caloric content of Pacific salmon to evaluate the importance of salmon species, population, body size, and lipid levels in determining their energy content as prey for killer whales. We sampled all 5 species of Pacific salmon, but emphasized Chinook salmon, a predominant prey of killer whales. Energy density (kcal kg-1) was highly correlated with lipid content, whereas total energy value (kcal fish-1) was determined primarily by fish mass and secondarily by lipid content. These salmon energetics data can be used to provide better precision and estimates on the caloric value of prey to killer whales. To facilitate application of these results to the co-management of salmon and killer whales, we produced a simple relationship that uses fish length to predict total energy of Chinook salmon as prey where population-specific energy densities and fish masses are lacking. Benefits to killer whales from possible salmon fishery closures, or other activities that affect prey availability, will depend on the salmon species and populations involved.


KEY WORDS: Pacific salmon · Energy content · Resident killer whale prey


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Cite this article as: O’Neill SM, Ylitalo GM, West JE (2014) Energy content of Pacific salmon as prey of northern and southern resident killer whales. Endang Species Res 25:265-281. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00631

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