Polar Biology

, Volume 10, Issue 8, pp 609-618

First online:

Summer feeding ecology of harp seals (Phoca groenlandica) in relation to arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) in the Canadian high arctic

  • K. J. FinleyAffiliated with
  • , M. S. W. BradstreetAffiliated withLongpoint Bird Observatory
  • , G. W. MillerAffiliated withLGL Ltd.

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The diet and feeding behaviour of harp seals, Phoca groenlandica, was examined in two high arctic locations. Fish otoliths were used to evaluate dietary composition and aspects of the population dynamics of the major prey species, arctic cod, Boreogadus saida. Harp seals, primarily adults, arrive in the high arctic in mid to late June and depart by early October. Their migration is undertaken specifically for feeding. Harp seals feed intensively on arctic cod, often occurring in dense multispecies aggregations in late summer. The average weight of harp seal stomach contents was high; glutted individuals contained as much as 6% of their body weight in food. Although arctic cod declined in abundance between years, size of cod ingested was similar between areas and years, and overlapped completely with cod taken by other marine mammals. Age/size segregation of arctic cod may account for poor representation of fish <3 years old in the seal diet. Widespread reproductive failure of arctic cod could have a profound influence on the energy balance of adult harp seals since there does not appear to be an alternate food source of equivalent energy value and abundance in arctic waters. Increasing harp seal populations will likely result in increased competition with a host of arctic cod predators, particularly ringed seals.