University of Tasmania
Walters_PlosOne_2014.pdf (1.32 MB)

Spatially explicit estimates of prey consumption reveal a new krill predator in the Southern Ocean

Download (1.32 MB)
journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 22:27 authored by Andrea WaltersAndrea Walters, Mary-Anne LeaMary-Anne Lea, van den Hoff, J, Field, IC, Patti VirtuePatti Virtue, Sokolov, S, Pinkerton, MH, Mark HindellMark Hindell
Development in foraging behaviour and dietary intake of many vertebrates are age-structured. Differences in feeding ecology may correlate with ontogenetic shifts in dispersal patterns, and therefore affect foraging habitat and resource utilization. Such life-history traits have important implications in interpreting tropho-dynamic linkages. Stable isotope ratios in the whiskers of sub-yearling southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina; n = 12) were used, in conjunction with satellite telemetry and environmental data, to examine their foraging habitat and diet during their first foraging migration. The trophic position of seals from Macquarie Island (54°30'S, 158°57'E) was estimated using stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) ratios along the length of the whisker, which provided a temporal record of prey intake. Satellite-relayed data loggers provided details on seal movement patterns, which were related to isotopic concentrations along the whisker. Animals fed in waters south of the Polar Front (>60°S) or within Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) Statistical Subareas 88.1 and 88.2, as indicated by both their depleted δ13C (< -220%) values, and tracking data. They predominantly exploited varying proportions of mesopelagic fish and squid, and crustaceans, such as euphausiids, which have not been reported as a prey item for this species. Comparison of isotopic data between sub-yearlings, and 1, 2 and 3 yr olds indicated that sub-yearlings, limited by their size, dive capabilities and prey capture skills to feeding higher in the water column, fed at a lower trophic level than older seals. This is consistent with the consumption of euphausiids and most probably, Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), which constitute an abundant, easily accessible source of prey in water masses used by this age class of seals. Isotopic assessment and concurrent tracking of seals are successfully used here to identify ontogenetic shifts in broad-scale foraging habitat use and diet preferences in a highly migratory predator.


Publication title

Plos One



Article number









Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Public Library of Science

Place of publication

United States of America

Rights statement

Copyright 2014 Walters et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of coastal and estuarine ecosystems

Usage metrics

    University Of Tasmania


    Ref. manager