Trophic ecology of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) compared with that of other arctic marine biota as interpreted from carbon-, nitrogen-, and sulfur-isotope signatures

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In this study, stable carbon (13C), nitrogen (15N), and sulfur (34S) isotope ratios were measured in muscle tissue from the Bering–Chukchi–Beaufort Sea population of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus; n = 84) and various marine biota between 1997 and 2000. In previous investigations, stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in baleen from this population have been used to elucidate age, migratory behaviour, and feeding ecology. However, information on 13C, 15N, and 34S isotope patterns in bowhead whale muscle tissue and variability within the Bering Sea population is limited. Stable sulfur isotope values did not vary with 13C enrichment for three consecutive seasons (n = 53) and this suggests that habitat selection by bowhead whales was consistent over the sampling period. We found that in contrast to other studies, seasonal differences (spring versus fall) in 13C values were not associated with seasonal changes in 15N values, suggesting either that bowhead whales maintain a consistently lower trophic position relative to other marine mammals or that stable carbon and nitrogen isotope fractionation is tissue-dependent and (or) isotope-dependent within this species. Seasonal fluctuation in 13C values was consistent for all age classes of bowhead whales and suggests that the Bering and Beaufort seas are both important regions for feeding.

Nous avons mesuré les rapports entre les isotopes stables de carbone (13C), d'azote (15N) et de soufre (34S) dans les tissus musculaires de baleines boréales (Balaena mysticetus; n = 84) de la population des mers de Béring, de la Tchoukotka et de Beaufort et d'autres organismes marins entre 1997 et 2000. Au cours d'études antérieures, le rapport entre le carbone et l'azote stables du lard chez cette population a permis de déterminer l'âge, le comportement à la migration et l'écologie alimentaire des baleines. Cependant, les détails connus sur les tendances de 13C, 15N et 34S dans les tissus musculaires de cette baleine et sur la variabilité au sein de la population de la mer de Béring sont limités. Les valeurs des isotopes stables de soufre n'ont pas changé malgré l'enrichissement important en 13C durant trois saisons consécutives (n = 53), ce qui semble indiquer que le choix de l'habitat chez cette baleine a été constant pendant toute la période d'échantillonnage. Contrairement aux résultats obtenus au cours d'autres études, les variations saisonnières (printemps versus automne) de 13C n'étaient pas associées à des variations saisonnières de 15N, ce qui indique que les baleines boréales occupent toujours une position trophique inférieure à celle des autres mammifères marins ou que le fractionnement des isotopes stables de carbone et d'azote est fonction du tissu et (ou) de la nature de l'isotope. Les fluctuations saisonnières des valeurs de 13C sont les mêmes chez toutes les classes d'âge de baleines boréales et indiquent que les mers de Béring et de Beaufort sont des aires d'alimentation importantes.[Traduit par la Rédaction]

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2002

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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