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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 549:263-274 (2016)  -  DOI:

Variation in the diet of killer whales Orcinus orca at Marion Island, Southern Ocean

Ryan R. Reisinger1,5,*, Darren R. Gröcke2, Nico Lübcker1, Erin L. McClymont3, A. Rus Hoelzel4, P. J. Nico de Bruyn1

1Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X20, Hatfield 0028, Pretoria, South Africa
2Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
3Department of Geography, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
4School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
5Present address: Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, PO Box 77000, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Diet seems to be a key factor driving diversity and isolation among killer whale populations. Killer whales at Marion Island, Southern Ocean, have been observed preying on seals and penguins but are also know to depredate Patagonian toothfish from longline fishing vessels. However, their diet is poorly known especially when they occur offshore. We analysed carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios in 32 skin samples collected from 24 killer whales belonging to 8 social units. Adult males showed higher δ15N values than adult females or subadults, indicating that they occupy a higher relative trophic level. There were no significant differences in δ13C among social units, but δ15N differed significantly and 2 individuals from social units which have been observed depredating Patagonian toothfish had higher δ15N values. The inshore presence of killer whales at Marion Island was a significant predictor of δ13C values, but not of δ15N values. This suggests some foraging north of Marion Island, potentially on lower trophic level prey. We also analysed tissue samples from seal, penguin and Patagonian toothfish prey and used available values for Antarctic fur seals. Results show that killer whales around Marion Island are apex predators, but that they do not feed exclusively on other high trophic level predators such as elephant seals, fur seals, and Patagonian toothfish. Killer whales had δ15N values similar to those of Patagonian toothfish and adult male elephant seals, implying that the diet of killer whales at Marion Island includes some lower trophic level prey such as cephalopods or fishes.

KEY WORDS: Predator · Stable isotopes · Carbon · δ13C · Nitrogen · δ15N · Foraging · Trophic level

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Cite this article as: Reisinger RR, Gröcke DR, Lübcker N, McClymont EL, Hoelzel AR, de Bruyn PJN (2016) Variation in the diet of killer whales Orcinus orca at Marion Island, Southern Ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 549:263-274.

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