Diet of northern bottlenose whales inferred from fatty-acid and stable-isotope analyses of biopsy samples

Sascha K. Hooker, Sara J. Iverson, Peggy Ostrom, and Sean C. Smith. 2001.

Canadian Journal of Zoology 79: 1442-1454.

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The Gully submarine canyon off eastern Canada has been designated a pilot marine protected area largely because of the northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) found there. Studies of this species' diet elsewhere in the north Atlantic Ocean have suggested specialization on the deep-sea squid Gonatus fabricii. We found a high proportion of the congener Gonatus steenstrupi in the stomachs of two bottlenose whales stranded in eastern Canada. In 1997, we collected remote biopsy samples from free-ranging bottlenose whales off Nova Scotia: fatty acids were determined from blubber samples and stable isotopes (carbon and nitrogen) from skin samples. Although fatty-acid stratification throughout the depth of the blubber layer was present (determined from blubber samples of stranded animals), the magnitude of stratification was less pronounced than in many other cetaceans, allowing some qualitative inferences to be made from shallow biopsy samples. Fatty-acid patterns and stable-isotope values from whales were compared with samples of G. fabricii from the Norwegian Sea. Blubber fatty acid composition was similar in characteristics to that of adult G. fabricii but was markedly distinct from that of juvenile G. fabricii and other recorded prey species. Nitrogen-isotope values implied that bottlenose whales (mean 15.3 ) and adult G. fabricii (mean 13.7 ) occupy high trophic levels. Overall, the results of these techniques concurred in suggesting that squid of the genus Gonatus may form a major part of the diet of bottlenose whales in the Gully.

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