• A Multiple Stable Isotope Study Of Steller Sea Lions And Bowhead Whales: Signals Of A Changing Northern Environment

      Dehart, Pieter Andrew Philip; Wooller, Matthew J. (2006)
      The North Pacific and Arctic marine realm is currently experiencing dramatic environmental changes as a result of global climate change. Stable isotope analysis of western arctic bowhead whales (WABW, Balaena mysticetus ) and Steller sea lions (SSL, Eumetopias jubatus) were conducted to examine the influence of these changes on life history characteristics (migration and foraging) of these marine mammals. WABW baleen plates were analyzed for their stable oxygen and hydrogen isotope composition (delta 18O and deltaD) and were compared to the delta18O and deltaD in water and zooplankton prey along their seasonal migratory route. The delta18O and deltaD varied along the baleen (8 to 18�; -180 to -80�, respectively) and corresponded to stable isotopic differences in zooplankton from the winter (Bering Sea) and summer (eastern Beaufort Sea) habitats of WABW. Baleen delta18O and deltaD confirmed the seasonal annual migration of WABW and were subsequently compared to historical sea ice concentrations (SIC). This illustrated that WABW migration patterns appeared to have altered concomitant with changes in SIC. Years with a higher SIC (colder climate regimes) correlated with the largest difference in deltaD between winter and summer in WABW baleen during the period from 1972 to 1988. For a similar time period (1955 to 2000), the feeding ecology of SSL was also examined by analyzing the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions (delta13C and delta 15N, respectively) of archived SSL bone and tooth collagen. Both delta 15N and delta13C varied greatly with location and sample year (14.6 to 20.5�; - 16.7 to -11.8�, respectively), with a significant change in delta13C observed around the 1976 regime shift. Bottom-up processes may have limited growth of SSL populations throughout this region over time, with animals focusing their foraging on offshore regions to mitigate this environmental change. Stable isotope analyses of historical samples of WABW (baleen) and SSL (bone and tooth collagen) both illustrated that recent environmental changes influenced the ecology (migration and feeding) of these marine mammals in the recent past.