Loseto, L.L.; Stern, G.A.; Connelly, T.L.; Deibel, D.; Gemmill, B.; Prokopowicz, A.; Fortier, L.; Ferguson, S.H. (2009). Summer diet of beluga whales inferred by fatty acid analysis of the eastern Beaufort Sea food web. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 374 (1) 12-18.
beluga whales (delphinapterus leucas) are the most abundant odontocetes in arctic waters and are thus thought to influence food web structure and function. the diet of the beaufort sea beluga population is not well known, partly due to the inherent difficulty of observing feeding behaviour in arctic marine cetaceans. to determine which prey items are critical to the beaufort sea beluga diet we first examine and describe the mackenzie delta and beaufort sea food web using fatty acid analyses. fatty acid profiles effectively partitioned prey items into groups associated with their habitat and feeding ecology. next, the relative contribution of various prey items to beluga diet was investigated using fatty acids. finally, beluga diet variability was examined as a function of body size, a known correlate of habitat use. beluga appeared to feed predominantly on arctic cod (boreogadus saida) collected from near shore and offshore regions. size related dietary differences suggested larger sized beluga preferred offshore arctic cod given the shared high levels of long chain monounsaturates, whereas smaller sized beluga appeared to feed on prey in their near shore habitats that included near shore arctic cod. the presence of arctic cod groups in shallow near shore and deep offshore habitats may facilitate the behavioural segregation of beluga habitat use as it relates to their size and resource requirements. given arctic cod are a sea ice associated fish combined with the accelerated sea ice loss in this region, beluga whales may need to adapt to new dietary regimes. (c) 2009 elsevier b.v. all rights reserved.