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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 471:271-281 (2012)  -  DOI:

Lipid and fatty acid profiles of migrating Southern Hemisphere humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae

Courtney A. Waugh1,*, Peter D. Nichols2, Michael C. Noad3, Susan Bengtson Nash4

1National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology (Entox), The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4108, Australia
2CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Wealth from Oceans Flagship, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia
3Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Lab (CEAL), School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland, Gatton, Queensland 4343, Australia
4Atmospheric Environment Research Centre (AERC), Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia

ABSTRACT: The lipid and fatty acid (FA) composition of the outer blubber layer was characterized in 46 east Australian migrating humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae. Samples were obtained at 2 time points of the annual migration, which occurs between Antarctic feeding grounds and low-latitude breeding grounds and is associated with a prolonged period of fasting. Blubber lipid composition was dominated by triacylglycerols in all individuals, and the FA profiles of both migration cohorts and sexes were dominated by monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). Results indicate that males primarily mobilise polyunsaturated fatty acids in response to migration and fasting, favouring the most readily utilisable FA as governed by their physicochemical properties. In comparison, females appear to initially mobilise short-chain (<18 carbons) MUFA stores, potentially to attend to dependent calves’ thermoregulatory needs. Feeding ecology investigations suggested that humpback whales have a species-specific FA composition of their blubber, including a detectable influence of their diet. This study provides the first insight into lipid and FA profiles of Southern Hemisphere humpback whales. A comprehensive understanding of FA dynamics, especially during times of energy deficit, is essential for understanding the nutritional status of Southern Hemisphere humpback whales and thereby the risks posed by growing environmental threats including toxic and persistent lipophilic pollutants.

KEY WORDS: Humpback whale · Megaptera novaeangliae · Biopsy sampling · Blubber · Fatty acid

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Cite this article as: Waugh CA, Nichols PD, Noad MC, Bengtson Nash S (2012) Lipid and fatty acid profiles of migrating Southern Hemisphere humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 471:271-281.

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