MEPS 305:249-259 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps305249

Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis reveals seasonal variation in the diet of leopard seals

Sophie A. Hall-Aspland1,2,*, Tracey L. Rogers2, Rhondda B. Canfield1

1Faculty of Veterinary Science, JD Steward Building B01, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia
2Australian Marine Mammal Research Centre, Zoological Parks Board NSW/Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, PO Box 20, Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales 2088, Australia

ABSTRACT: In order to assess seasonal and spatial changes in diet, the δ15N and δ13C signatures of vibrissae from leopard seals Hydrurga leptonyx obtained from Prydz Bay, Eastern Antarctica, were compared with those of a captive seal on a known diet. Using the isotopic signatures of known prey, and those revealed by the assimilation rates of vibrissae, we constructed trophic models to estimate diet composition. Assuming that current diet was reflected only in the actively growing portion of the vibrissae, the latter were sectioned. Each section was then analysed independently. Two methods of analysis of the vibrissae isotopic data were compared in order to ascertain the best analytical approach to these data. A simple linear model and a von Bertalanffy growth model were used to estimate section age and vibrissae growth rates. The age predictions of the von Bertalanffy growth model allowed the existence of repeated seasonal oscillations in both δ15N and δ13C values. Temporal variations in stable isotope ratios consistent with changes in source of feeding (inshore vs. offshore) and prey types were identified in the Antarctic leopard seals, but not in the captive seal. This preliminary study has possible implications for the use of vibrissae to track dietary changes over time and may serve as a tool for investigating foraging preferences of highly mobile or migratory pinniped species.

KEY WORDS: Leopard seal · Stable isotope · Vibrissae · von Bertalanffy · Antarctic · Prey switching

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