MEPS 332:211-224 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps332211

Historic decline in primary productivity in western Gulf of Alaska and eastern Bering Sea: isotopic analysis of northern fur seal teeth

S. D. Newsome1,*, M. A. Etnier2, C. M. Kurle3, J. R. Waldbauer4, C. P. Chamberlain5, P. L. Koch6

1Carnegie Institution of Washington, Geophysical Laboratory, 5251 Broad Branch Road NW, Washington, DC 20015, USA
2Anthropology Department, University of Washington, Box 353100, Seattle, Washington 98195-3100, USA
3Center for Ocean Health, University of California-Santa Cruz, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA
4Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, E34, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
5Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2115, USA
6Earth Sciences Department, University of California-Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA

ABSTRACT: The cause(s) for the declines in marine mammal populations in the North Pacific and Bering Sea over the past 30 yr are unknown, despite progress in understanding the present ecology of this system. Explanations that attribute the declines to long-term decreases in marine productivity and/or short-term shifts in oceanographic conditions have been offered, but few studies have explored the issue from an explicitly historical perspective. Here we present a high-resolution, 52 yr time series of δ13C and δ15N values for teeth of juvenile male northern fur seal Callorhinus ursinus collected from a single colony on Saint Paul Island, Alaska in the eastern Bering Sea. Mean annual δ13C declined by ~1.1‰ from 1948 to 2000, while long-term mean annual δ15N did not significantly change. The relatively small but significant long-term decrease in δ13C most likely reflects anthropogenically-driven changes in surface ocean carbon reservoirs and not a decline in primary productivity in the North Pacific and Bering Sea system. To assess short-term shifts in the time series, we de-trended the δ13C data; the δ15N time series did not require a correction. The corrected δ13C and uncorrected δ15N values showed low amplitude oscillations with a frequency of ~20 to 25 yr that are roughly in phase through time. The relative timing of these oscillations suggest they may be driven by shifts in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO); however, the frequency of cycles in our time series is approximately half as long as the frequency of the PDO. Finally, mean δ13C and δ15N values suggest that juvenile males modify their migration patterns by Age 3 (GL3, the third year of growth). Specifically, they remain in high-latitude waters year-round (southern Bering Sea and/or western Gulf of Alaska).

KEY WORDS: Northern fur seals · Callorhinus ursinus · Stable isotopes · Teeth annuli · Primary productivity · Suess effect · North Pacific Ocean · Bering Sea

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