FORAGING STRATEGIES OF SYMPATRIC KILLER WHALE (ORCINUS ORCA) POPULATIONS IN PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, ALASKA

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Abstract

Killer whales (Orcinus orca) feed on a wide variety of fish, cephalopods, and marine mammals throughout their cosmopolitan range; however, the dietary breadth that characterizes the species is not reflected in all populations. Here, we present the findings of a 14-yr study of the diet and feeding habits of killer whales in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Two non-associating forms of killer whale, termed resident and transient (Bigg et al. 1987), were identified. All prey seen taken by transients were marine mammals, including harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), Dall's porpoises (Phocoenoides dalli), Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), and harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena). Resident killer whales appeared to prey principally on salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.), preferring coho salmon (O. kisutch) over other, more abundant salmon species. Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) and Pacific halibut (Hippocampus stenolepis) were also taken. Resident killer whales frequently were seen to interact in non-predatory ways with Steller sea lions and Dall's porpoises, while transients were not. Differences in the social organization and behavior of the resident and transient killer whales in Prince William Sound are discussed in the light of the dietary differences documented here.

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