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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 603:243-255 (2018)  -  DOI:

Stable isotopes (δ15N, δ13C, δ34S) in skin reveal diverse food sources used by southern right whales Eubalaena australis

Luciano O. Valenzuela1,2,3,*, Victoria J. Rowntree3,4, Mariano Sironi1,5, Jon Seger3

1Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas, Buenos Aires, 1429 Buenos Aires, Argentina
2Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Laboratorio de Ecología Evolutiva Humana y Núcleo de Estudios Interdisciplinarios sobre Poblaciones Humanas de Patagonia Austral, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Nacional del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, Quequén, Buenos Aires CP 7631, Argentina
3Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA
4Ocean Alliance/Whale Conservation Institute, Gloucester, MA 01930, USA
5Cátedra de Diversidad Animal II, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, 5000 Córdoba, Argentina
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Skin samples collected from living southern right whales (SRWs) off Península Valdés, Argentina, show a wide range of stable isotope values (δ15N, δ13C, δ34S). These were compared to the isotopic signatures of euphausiids and copepods from different areas across the southwestern South Atlantic and the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. Our results suggest that that this population of SRWs uses at least 3 distinct food sources. Each food source may represent a single feeding ground or a combination of feeding grounds with different prey species distributions. Individual whales pursue foraging strategies that vary substantially in the amounts of time they spend in different feeding grounds along their migratory paths. The 3 grounds that appear to contribute most to the diets of Península Valdés SRWs correspond to areas previously documented in the log books of whaling ships: the Patagonian Shelf, South Georgia and the waters of the Polar Front. It is possible that additional feeding areas are also currently being used in the South Atlantic. Age and sex classes differ isotopically, but these differences could be caused by biomechanical or physiological characteristics rather than by age- and sex-specific specialization in different feeding areas.

KEY WORDS: Distribution · Feeding grounds · Migration · Population · Baleen whales · Southern Ocean · Patagonia

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Cite this article as: Valenzuela LO, Rowntree VJ, Sironi M, Seger J (2018) Stable isotopes (δ15N, δ13C, δ34S) in skin reveal diverse food sources used by southern right whales Eubalaena australis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 603:243-255.

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