• Estimating sizes of fish consumed by ice seals using otolith length-fish length relationships

      Walker, Kelly; Norcross, Brenda L.; Brown, Randy; Lopez, Andres; Quakenbush, Lori (2017-12)
      Arctic fishes and ice seals are key components of the Alaskan Arctic ecosystem. Bearded (Erignathus barbatus), spotted (Phoca largha) and ringed (Pusa hispida) seals are consumers of Arctic marine fishes. Little is known about the sizes of fish that ice seals consume because prey items are digested quickly once exposed to stomach acids. Otoliths, fish ear bones, are often the only parts of a fish that remain in a seal stomach. Otolith length relates directly to fish length, making size estimations of consumed fish possible for piscivore diet studies. Otoliths were measured from fishes collected from cruises in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas during 2009 - 2014. Otolith length - fish length and fish length - fish weight relationships were developed for 11 Arctic marine fish species that are commonly consumed by ice seals in Alaska. Otoliths from seal stomachs provided by subsistence hunters to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game were identified to species level and measured for total length. A mixed effects model was used to determine how the variables of seal species, harvest location, seal age class and sex influenced the sizes of fish consumed. Harvest location and seal age class were the primary factors that affected fish size in ice seal stomachs. Estimating length and weights of fishes consumed by ice seals will help further diet and energetics studies that have not previously been possible in the Alaskan Arctic.
    • Insight into the diet history of ice seals using isotopic signatures of muscle tissue and claws

      Carroll, Sara Shanae; Norcross, Brenda; Horstmann-Dehn, Larissa; Quakenbush, Lori; Wooller, Matthew (2012-05)
      Climate change and sea ice reduction in the Arctic may impact foraging of ice-associated predators. The goal of my thesis work was to examine interannual differences in the diet of ringed, bearded, spotted, and ribbon seals as described by stable nitrogen and carbon isotope ratios of muscle tissue and claws to assess foraging plasticity. Isotopic mixing models from muscle data were used to describe the proportional contribution of prey groups during 2003, 2008-2010. Results showed a higher proportional contribution of smelt (Osmeridae) and benthic prey to ringed and bearded seal diets in 2003 compared to 2008-2010. Seasonal keratin layers deposited in claws can document trophic history up to about 10 years. During 2007 (record ice minimum), proportionally more ringed seals fed at a lower trophic level, while spotted seal adults and young-of-the-year fed at a lower trophic level during 2006. Bearded seals may have been foraging more pelagically from 2008 to 2010. Ice seals may be taking advantage of more abundant pelagic crustaceans as the Arctic ecosystem changes to a pelagic-dominated food web. Interannual variations and high variability among species and individual diets illustrate the opportunistic nature and flexibility of ice seals to changes in prey composition.