Deakin University
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Importance of toothfish in the diet of generalist subantarctic killer whales: implications for fisheries interactions

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posted on 2019-01-01, 00:00 authored by P Tixie, J Giménez, R R Reisinge, P Méndez-Fernandez, John ArnouldJohn Arnould, Y Cherel, C Guinet
Fisheries may generate new feeding opportunities for marine predators, which switch foraging behaviour to depredation when they feed on fish directly from fishing gear. However, the role of diet in the propensity of individuals to depredate and whether the depredated resource is artificial or part of the natural diet of individuals is often unclear. Using stable isotopes, this study investigated the importance of the commercially exploited Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides in the diet of generalist subantarctic killer whales Orcinus orca depredating this fish at Crozet (45°S, 50°E). The isotopic niche of these killer whales was large and overlapped with that of sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus from the same region, which feed on toothfish both naturally and through depredation. There was no isotopic difference between killer whales that depredated toothfish and those that did not. Isotopic mixing models indicated that prey groups including large/medium sized toothfish and elephant seal Mirounga leonina pups represented ~60% of the diet relative to prey groups including penguins, baleen whales and coastal fish. These results indicate that toothfish are an important natural prey item of Crozet killer whales and that switching to depredation primarily occurs when fisheries facilitate access to that resource. This study suggests that toothfish, as a commercial species, may also have a key role as prey for top predators in subantarctic ecosystems. Therefore, assessing the extent to which predators use that resource naturally or from fisheries is now needed to improve both fish stock management and species conservation strategies.



Marine Ecology Progress Series




197 - 210



Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2019, The Authors