VARIABILITY IN THE BLUBBER FATTY ACID COMPOSITION OF RINGED SEALS (PHOCA HISPIDA) ACROSS THE CANADIAN ARCTIC

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Abstract

We determined the blubber fatty acid (FA) composition of 281 ringed seals (Phoca hispida) across the Canadian Arctic to make inferences about spatial, temporal, and demographic patterns of foraging. Seals were sampled in nine locations between 1992 and 2004. Regional differences in FA signatures were related to the distance between groups, with the greatest similarity occurring among seals sampled in three locations within the Beaufort Sea-Amundsen Gulf. Seals in the western and southeastern portions of Hudson Bay also had similar FA signatures. Discriminant analysis on seventeen FAs classified ringed seals to their correct geographic region with 95% accuracy. Although location accounted for most of the variability in FA signatures, adult and juvenile ringed seals in Frobisher Bay-Labrador Sea and Jones Sound showed significant FA differences, as did male and female ringed seals in Jones Sound and Qaanaaq. Demographic differences were not detected among ringed seals in the Beaufort Sea-Amundsen Gulf or in western Hudson Bay. Seals off the coast of Labrador showed significant seasonal variability in FA signatures. Overall, seasonal, regional, and demographic patterns in FA signatures were consistent with differences in ringed seal diets, as inferred from stomach content and stable isotope analyses.

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