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Abstract: Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are marine apex predators distributed across the world’s oceans. In the last 40 years, researchers have increasingly differentiated killer whales into ecotypes based on genetics, morphology, behaviour, acoustic repertoire, habitat, and trophic ecology. While killer whale ecotypes in the Northern Hemisphere are well studied, the recognition of distinct killer whale forms in the Southern Hemisphere is mainly limited to Antarctic waters. Although present in less studied regions, such as along the Atacama Desert coast in the Southeast Pacific Ocean, limited information is available regarding their biology or trophic ecology. Herein, multiple lines of evidence are presented for killer whale predation on marine mammals in northern Chile. Using information from systematic boat-based surveys, whale-watching tour surveys, and reports from fishermen/citizen scientists, 19 killer whale sightings are reported along the coast of northern Chile (from the Arica and Parinacota region in the north to the Atacama region in the south). Killer whales were photo-identified as corresponding to the Southern Hemisphere Type A-like ecotype according to their dorsal fin shape and white eye patch. One killer whale pod, which included two males, one female, one juvenile, and one calf, was resighted six times from 2016 to 2021 in northern Chile and was observed hunting South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens), dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus), and long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus cf. capensis). Killer whales were observed taking advantage of large aggregations of sea lions associated with the offshore purse-seine fishery. Adult killer whales used the hulls of fishing vessels to prevent sea lions from escaping. Photo-identification analysis of a fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) catalogue from Mejillones Peninsula showed that 2.6% of all identified whales had apparent rake marks from killer whale teeth on their dorsal fins. These data show that Type A-like killer whales in northern Chile prey on several species of marine mammals.
Key Words: killer whales, Orcinus orca, diet, Southeast Pacific, sea lions, dusky dolphins, fin whales, Chile
Page Numbers: 436-448