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Variation in blubber fatty acid composition among marine mammals in the Canadian Arctic



The composition of predator adipose stores can provide important insights into foraging patterns and the ecological relationships among species. We determined the fatty acid (FA) composition of 843 blubber samples from 80 bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus), 33 harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), 239 harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus), 32 hooded seals (Cystophora cristata), 281 ringed seals (Phoca hispida), 53 walruses (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus), 105 beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), and 20 narwhals (Monodon monoceros) across the Canadian Arctic to examine patterns of variability among and within species. FA signatures accurately distinguished phocid seals, walruses, and whales. Belugas and narwhals had the most similar FA signatures of any two species, suggesting substantial overlap in their diets, especially in the narwhal-wintering area off eastern Baffin Island. Among phocid seals, harp and hooded seals had the most similar FA signatures. Bearded seals were most similar to walruses, which was consistent with the benthic feeding habits of both species. Within species, geographic differences in FA signatures were found over both large (>4,000 km) and small (<100 km) spatial scales. Overall, within-species differences were smaller than among-species differences. In general, FA signature patterns were consistent with previous studies of the ecology and diets of arctic marine mammals.