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Trophic Interactions and Population Trends of Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in the Southern Ross Sea
Abstract: Foraging events and related trends in numbers of Type-B and -C killer whales (Orcinus orca) are reported for the vicinity of Ross Island, Ross Sea, Antarctica between 2002 and 2010. Updating an earlier report, the frequency of sightings and the number of individuals per sighting of Ross Sea killer whales (Type-C; RSKWs), a fishing-eating ecotype, has continued to decrease in a pattern coincident with a decrease in the number and size of an important prey: Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni). Increasingly rare, large fish are much more energetically dense and may also be socially important to the whales, a relationship with potential parallels to that known between well-studied fish-eating killer whales and large Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in the northeast Pacific. In contrast, the prevalence of the larger, mammal-eating Type-B killer whales has not changed in the southern Ross Sea study area. Predation events by Type-B killer whales involving Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii), interest in large penguins, such as emperors (Aptenodytes forsteri), and lack of interest in small penguins, such as Adélies (Pygoscelis adeliae), are presented. In the case of both killer whale forms, the progressive seasonal breakup of fast ice in large bays bordering the Ross Sea likely provides reliable, enhanced foraging opportunities as prey are exposed one area at a time during summer. Given the apparent relationship between RSKW prevalence and the availability of large toothfish, we speculate that the current management strategy of Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea region threatens current population levels of RSKWs.
Key Words: Antarctic toothfish, Dissostichus mawsoni, Ross Sea killer whales, Type-B killer whales, Type-C killer whales, Orcinus orca, Weddell seal, Leptonychotes weddellii, fish depletion, prey selectivity
Document Type: Research article
Page Numbers: 153-160