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Keywords:

  • killer whale;
  • Orcinus orca;
  • carbon;
  • nitrogen;
  • stable isotope;
  • foraging ecology

Abstract

Epidermal skin samples from eastern North Atlantic killer whales, Orcinus orca, were analyzed for carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios. From those, comparisons within a data set of 17 samples collected from Tysfjord, Norway, in November suggested that diet is relatively specialized during this time period at this location. There were significant differences between a small set of samples from Iceland and those collected from Norway, which had all been assigned to the same population by a previous population genetics study. The results would be consistent with matrilines feeding on either the Norwegian or Icelandic stocks of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus). There was no significant difference within Icelandic samples between those assigned to the population known to feed upon herring and those assigned to a population hypothesized to follow Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus). The greatest differences were between the epidermal samples analyzed in this study and tooth and bone collagen samples from the North Sea that were analyzed previously, which also showed significantly more variation in isotopic ratios than found for skin samples. These differences could reflect differences in turnover rate, differences in diet-tissue fractionation and discrimination due to the amino acid composition of the different tissues, and/or greater competition promoting dietary variation between groups in the North Sea.