MEPS 346:285-297 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps06995

Role of the bowhead whale as a predator in West Greenland

Kristin L. Laidre1,3,* Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen1, Torkel Gissel Nielsen2

1Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Box 570, 3900 Nuuk, Greenland
2National Environmental Research Institute, Department of Marine Ecology, Frederiksborgvej 399, PO Box 358, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
3Present address: Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, Washington 98105, USA

ABSTRACT: We examined the spatial and temporal linkage between primary production, zooplankton distribution and density, and bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus foraging behavior in Disko Bay, West Greenland using concurrent ship-based oceanographic and net sampling together with instrumentation of whales with satellite-linked transmitters and dive recorders. Estimates of bowhead whale abundance were used in a bioenergetic model to calculate the potential consumption of zooplankton during their 4 mo stay in Disko Bay. Between 2001 and 2006, 30 whales were fitted with satellite transmitters that provided information on daily movements, and 14 whales were tracked with archival time–depth or time–depth–fluorescence recorders that provided detailed dive data. Simultaneous data were collected on water column structure, phytoplankton and zooplankton density, taxa and biomass at 25 stations south of Disko Island in 2003, 2005 and 2006. After the retreat of annual winter sea ice, bowhead whales explored a limited area along the south coast of Disko Island and had high interannual site fidelity. Mean dive depths varied between 53 (SD = 35) and 109 (SD = 41) m but maximum dive depths were >400 m. Most dives targeted the bottom and dive durations >40 min were observed for several whales. Available prey for bowhead whales was dominated by calanoid copepods, with Calanus finmarchicus, C. glacialis and C. hyperboreus occurring at 90 to 100% of all stations between 0 and 50 m and contributing 78 ± 25% of the total biomass. Bottom sampling for epizooplankton in 2006 resulted in unprecedented densities of C. finmarchicus, several orders of magnitude higher than at any other depth. Bioenergetic modeling indicated the population consumes ~220 US t of zooplankton per day or >21000 t during the 4 mo stay in Disko Bay. Although the total biomass of zooplankton in the upper 50 m of the water column theoretically could support this predation level, benthic zooplankton densities and behavioral data suggest whales target preascension stage epibenthic copepods in high density patches.

KEY WORDS: Bowhead whale · Foraging · Zooplankton · Calanus · Greenland

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Cite this article as: Laidre KL, Peter Heide-Jørgensen M, Gissel Nielsen T (2007) Role of the bowhead whale as a predator in West Greenland. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 346:285-297

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