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Abstract: We quantified the stable isotope ratios of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) as well as the total mercury (Hg) concentration in muscle samples from 20 common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) stranded along the coast of Hokkaido, Japan. We investigated the relationship between the quantified values and the body length (BL) of the whales to examine the BL at which ontogenetic changes, such as nursing and weaning, occur. The whales investigated consisted of 12 calves (BL ≤ 5 m), including newborns, and eight sexually mature whales (7.2 to 10.2 m BL). The δ15N values in the calves were in the range of 11.2 to 13.8‰ and were fitted to a quadratic function (F10 = 4.588, R2 = 0.505, p = 0.0423). The δ15N-enriched peak was calculated to be 4.0 m BL, which may correspond with the onset of weaning. In contrast, the δ15N values of the mature whales showed no particular change regardless of growth (10.8 to 12.4‰). The δ13C values in the calves showed no particular pattern (-18.3 to -20.0‰), probably due to the large variation in the lipid concentration in milk, while those in the mature whales tended to decrease with growth (F6 = 3.400, R2 = 0.362, p = 0.115). The Hg concentrations in the muscle samples were trace but increased linearly with an increase in BL (F18 = 87.68, R2 = 0.830, p < 0.0001). The δ15N and Hg levels of mature whales were lower than respective levels observed in odontocetes stranded along the coast of Hokkaido, suggesting that mature whales feed mainly on zooplankton and small fish containing low Hg concentrations at low trophic positions.
Key Words: calf, nursing, weaning, ontogeny, milk, baleen whale, curve fitting
Page Numbers: 86-95