Impact of changing diet regimes on Steller sea lion body condition

Authors

  • Shannon Atkinson,

    1. Alaska SeaLife Center, 301 Railway Avenue, P. O. 1329, Seward, Alaska 99664-1329, U.S.A. and School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 201 Railway Avenue, P.O. 730, Seward, Alaska 99664, U.S.A. E-mail: shannon_atkinson@alaskasealife.org
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  • Donald Calkins,

    1. Alaska SeaLife Center, 301 Railway Avenue, P. O. 1329, Seward, Alaska 99664-1329, U.S.A.
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  • Vladimir Burkanov,

    1. National Marine Mammal Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, Washington 98115, U.S.A. and Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, 6, Partizanskaya Street, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, 683000, Russia
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  • Michael Castellini,

    1. School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 245 O'Neil Building, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, U.S.A.
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  • Daniel Hennen,

    1. Alaska SeaLife Center, 301 Railway Avenue, P. O. 1329, Seward, Alaska 99664-1329, U.S.A.
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  • Susan Inglis

    1. Alaska SeaLife Center, 301 Railway Avenue, P. O. 1329, Seward, Alaska 99664-1329, U.S.A. and School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 245 O'Neil Building, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, U.S.A.
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Abstract

A leading theory for the cause of the decline of Steller sea lions is nutritional stress, which led to chronic high juvenile mortality and possibly episodic adult mortality. Nutritional stress may have resulted from either poor quality or low abundance of prey. The objective of this study was to determine whether we could predict shifts in body condition (i.e., body mass or body fat content) over different seasons associated with a change in diet (i.e., toward lower quality prey). Captive Steller sea lions (n= 3) were fed three different diet regimes, where Diet 1 approximated the diet in the Kodiak area in the 1970s prior to the documented decline in that area, Diet 2 approximated the species composition in the Kodiak area after the decline had begun, and Diet 3 approximated the diet in southeast Alaska where the Steller sea lion population has been increasing for over 25 yr. All the animals used in this study were still growing and gained mass regardless of diet. Body fat (%) varied between 13% and 28%, but was not consistently high or low for any diet regime or season. Mean intake (in kg) of Diet 2 was significantly greater for all sea lions during all seasons. All animals did, however, tend to gain less body mass on Diets 2 and 3, as well as during the breeding and postbreeding seasons. They also tended to gain more mass during the winter and on Diet 1, though these differences were not statistically significant. Thus, changing seasonal physiology of Steller sea lions appears to have more impact on body condition than quality of prey, provided sufficient quantity of prey is available. Steller sea lions are opportunistic predators and are evidently able to thrive on a variety of prey. Our results indicate that Steller sea lions are capable of compensating for prey of low quality.

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