Variation in δ13C and δ15N values of mothers and their calves across southern right whale nursery grounds: the effects of nutritional stress?

Emma L. Carroll*, Glenn Dunshea, Paulo H. Ott, Luciano O. Valenzuela, C. Scott Baker, Simon J. Childerhouse, Oscar E. Gaggiotti, Paulo A. C. Flores, Karina Groch, Darren R. Gröcke, Mark A. Hindell, David Lundquist, Larissa R. Oliveira, Victoria Rowntree, Mariano Sironi, Seth D. Newsome

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Southern right whales (SRW) are capital breeders that use stored energy reserves to sustain themselves and their calves on nursery areas. With successful calving events declining in some SRW populations, it has been hypothesized that nutritional stress in adult females causes reproductive failure or death of calves shortly after birth. Here we compared offsets in carbon and nitrogen isotope values of mothers and their offspring (Δ13Ccalf-cow and Δ15Ncalf-cow) among three SRW populations. SRW from Aotearoa New Zealand, with high population growth rates and body conditions scores, have negative Δ13Ccalf-cow suggesting calves are utilizing 13C-depleted lipid carbon in milk to fuel the synthesis of nonessential amino acids used to build new tissues and rapidly grow. In contrast, a significantly positive Δ13Ccalf-cow offset previously reported for SRW from Argentina during a mass die-off event was hypothesized to be due to calves consuming milk with low lipid content. Patterns in Δ15Ncalf-cow were more difficult to interpret and highlight the complexity in nitrogen transfer between mother and offspring. When combined with similar data collected from Brazil and during a low mortality year in Argentina, we hypothesize this approach provides a way to retrospectively compare nutritional condition of breeding adult female SRW across nursery areas.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalMarine Mammal Science
VolumeEarly View
Early online date13 Sept 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Sept 2021

Keywords

  • Capital breeder
  • Eubalaena australis
  • Maternal investment
  • Physiology
  • Southern right whale
  • Stable isotope

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