MEPS 379:299-310 (2009)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07900

Population structure of North Pacific humpback whales on their feeding grounds revealed by stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios

Briana H. Witteveen1,2,4,*, Graham A. J. Worthy1,3, Kate M. Wynne2, James D. Roth1

1University of Central Florida, Department of Biology, 4000 Central Florida Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32826, USA
2University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, 118 Trident Way, Kodiak, Alaska 99615, USA
3Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, 6295 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32821, USA
4Present address: University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, 118 Trident Way, Kodiak, Alaska 99615, USA

ABSTRACT: Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in the North Pacific Ocean are a migratory species known to have a complex population structure on both feeding and breeding grounds. We described the structure of this population using stable isotope analysis of skin samples (n = 1105) collected from free-ranging North Pacific humpback whales from 10 sampling regions in 2004 and 2005. We detected significant quadratic relationships between latitude and both δ13C (R2 = 0.29) and δ15N (R2 = 0.23) as well as between longitude and δ13C (R2 = 0.43) and δ15N (R2 = 0.16). A weak negative linear relationship was seen between increasing distance from shore and both δ13C (R2 = 0.05) and δ15N (R2 = 0.02). Sampling regions were significantly different for both δ13C (ANOVA, F9,1094 = 136.4, p < 0.001) and δ15N (F9,1095 = 71.5, p < 0.001). We performed classification tree analyses using δ13C and δ15N as predictor variables to assign membership to sampling regions. Results of initial classification and ANOVAs supported combining the 10 sampling regions into 6 feeding groups. When applied to these feeding groups, the classification tree was able to predict 57% of group membership correctly, with accuracy rates for individual groups ranging from a low of 19% to a high of 78%. These results indicate that stable isotope analysis can be used to distinguish unique feeding aggregations of humpback whales within the North Pacific Ocean. Ultimately, isotopic characteristics of these aggregations can be applied to animals sampled on breeding grounds to assign them to a feeding aggregation, enhancing the ability to describe habitat linkages and migration patterns of humpback whales.


KEY WORDS: Stable isotopes · Humpback whales · Population structure · North Pacific Ocean


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Cite this article as: Witteveen BH, Worthy GAJ, Wynne KM, Roth JD (2009) Population structure of North Pacific humpback whales on their feeding grounds revealed by stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 379:299-310. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07900

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