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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 646:189-200 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13387

Fatty acids and stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N) in southern right whale Eubalaena australis calves in relation to age and mortality at Península Valdés, Argentina

Carina F. Marón1,2,*, Suzanne M. Budge3, Robert E. Ward4, Luciano O. Valenzuela2,5,6, Matías Di Martino7, Marcos Ricciardi2, Mariano Sironi1,2,7, Marcela Uhart7,9, Jon Seger5, Victoria J. Rowntree2,5,7,8

1Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales (FCEFyN), Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba 5000, Argentina
2Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires 1429, Argentina
3Department of Process Engineering and Applied Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax B3H 4R2, Canada
4Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322-8700, USA
5School of Biological Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA
6CONICET, Laboratorio de Ecología Evolutiva Humana, Universidad Nacional del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, Quequén 7631, Argentina
7Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, Chubut 9120, Argentina
8Whale Conservation Institute/Ocean Alliance, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01930, USA
9Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California - Davis, Davis, California 95616, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Baleen whales accumulate fat reserves during the summer to sustain reproduction while fasting in the winter. The southern right whale Eubalaena australis population that calves off Península Valdés, Argentina, experienced high calf mortality events from 2003 to 2013 and poor nutritional states of mothers could be a contributing cause. Previous studies found that the population’s reproductive success is influenced by prey availability. Mothers unable to build sufficient fat reserves or feeding on prey with different nutritional value may fail to meet the demands of lactation. Milk is the only source of nutrients and energy for calves at Valdés, so their fatty acids (FAs) and stable isotopes should reflect their mother’s diet and feeding-ground locations. Here, we compared FA profiles and C and N stable isotopes of dead calves with those of living calves to evaluate the potential impact of maternal nutrition on calf survival. We found no differences in the FA composition of blubber in dead and living calves, indicating similar maternal diets. Likewise, the isotopic values of living and dead calves imply that their mothers had similar foraging ranges. However, FA composition was greatly affected by calf length, indicating effects of calf age and duration of nursing. These findings suggest that mothers of dead calves did not feed on different diets or feeding grounds compared to mothers of living calves. Future research should further assess the overall health and body condition of the Valdés southern right whale calves.


KEY WORDS: Fatty acids · Calves · Diet · Blubber · Mortality · Carbon-13 · Nitrogen-15 · Nutritional status · Growth


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Cite this article as: Marón CF, Budge SM, Ward RE, Valenzuela LO and others (2020) Fatty acids and stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N) in southern right whale Eubalaena australis calves in relation to age and mortality at Península Valdés, Argentina. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 646:189-200. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13387

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