LinksMarine Environmental Research
article publicada [Mamíferos marinos]
ANDRADE D, AM GARCÍA-CEGARRA, F DOCMAC, LA ÑACARI & C HARROD (2023) Multiple stable isotopes (C, N & S) provide evidence for fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) trophic ecology and movements in the Humboldt Current System of northern Chile. Marine Environmental Research 192: 106178 doi: 10.1016/j.marenvres.2023.106178.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marenvres.2023.106178
Reflecting the intense coastal upwelling and high primary productivity characteristic of the Humboldt Current System (HCS), the northern coast of Chile supports a diverse and productive community of marine consumers, including worldwide important pelagic fisheries resources. Although marine mammals are relatively understudied in the region, recent studies have demonstrated that fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is the most frequently encountered whale species, and forages in these waters year-round. However, a current lack of information limits our understanding of whether fin whales actively feed and/or remain resident in these waters or whether whales are observed feeding as they migrate along this part of the Pacific. Here, we use stable isotope ratios of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur of fin whale skin samples collected in early summer 2020 (n = 18) and in late winter 2021 (n = 22) to examine evidence of temporal isotopic shifts that could provide information on potential migratory movements and to estimate likely consumption patterns of putative prey (i.e. zooplankton, krill, pelagic fishes and Pleuroncodes sp.). We also analysed prey items in fin whale faecal plumes (n = 8) collected during the study period. Stable isotope data showed significant differences in the isotopic values of fin whales from summer and winter. On average, summer individuals were depleted in 15N and 34S relative to those sampled during winter. Whales sampled in summer showed greater isotopic variance than winter individuals, with several showing values that were atypical for consumers from the HCS. During winter, fin whales showed far less inter-individual variation in stable isotope values, and all individuals had values indicative of prey consumption in the region. Analysis of both stable isotopes and faeces indicated that fin whales sighted off the Mejillones Peninsula fed primarily on krill (SIA median contribution = 32%; IRI = 65%) and, to a lesser extent, zooplankton (SIA zooplankton = 29%; IRI copepod = 33%). These are the first isotopic-based data regarding the trophic ecology of fin whales in the north of Chile. They provide evidence that fin whales are seasonally resident in the area, including individuals with values that likely originated outside the study area. The information presented here serves as a baseline for future work. It highlights that many aspects of the ecology of fin whales in the Humboldt Current and wider SE Pacific still need to be clarified.