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

Carroll, E.L. and Dunshea, G. and Ott, P.H. and Valenzuela, L.O. and Baker, C.S. and Childerhouse, S.J. and Gaggiotti, O.E. and Flores, P.A.C. and Groch, K. and Gröcke, D.R. and Hindell, M.A. and Lundqvist, D. and Oliviera, L.R. and Rowntree, V. and Sironi, M. and Newsome, S.D. (2021) 'Variation in δ13C and δ15N values of mothers and their calves across southern right whale nursery grounds: the effects of nutritional stress?', Marine mammal science. .


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 (∆13 Ccalf-cow and ∆15 Ncalf-cow) among three SRW populations. SRW from Aotearoa New Zealand, with high population growth rates and body conditions scores, have negative ∆13Ccalf-cow suggesting calves are utilizing 13 C-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 ∆13 Ccalf-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 ∆15 Ncalf-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.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 13 September 2022.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Date accepted:24 August 2021
Date deposited:16 August 2021
Date of first online publication:2021
Date first made open access:13 September 2022

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