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Stable isotope signatures of whisker and blood serum confirm foraging strategies for female New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctoshookeri) derived from telemetry

Chilvers, B.L.
Canadian journal of zoology 2017 v.95 no.12 pp. 955-963
Phocarctos hookeri, anthropogenic activities, blood serum, carbon, diet, ecotypes, females, fisheries, foraging, hairs, marine ecosystems, nitrogen, predators, risk, stable isotopes, telemetry
Recognizing the individual variability of foraging behaviour of marine predators is important for understanding their role in the marine ecosystem and identifying how species may respond to environmental variability or human impacts. This research examines stable isotope signatures (δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N) of blood serum and whiskers from 22 female New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri (Gray, 1844)) to determine if the isotopic composition of serum reflects foraging strategy, and whether serum and proximal whisker growth have similar signatures, therefore indicating the isotopic composition of whiskers also reflects the foraging strategy diet at the time of their growth. Female New Zealand sea lions are known to have two distinct foraging strategies (mesopelagic or benthic ecotypes), shown to be habitual within and between years. Females who are known to be mesopelagic foragers have higher overlap and are at greater risk of harmful interactions with fisheries. This research found that the two foraging strategies identified from telemetry are also associated with different δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N isotopic values from blood serum and whiskers. Therefore, stable isotope analysis could be used to determine the proportion of the female population that are likely to be exposed to the detrimental direct and indirect interactions with fisheries.