Marine Biology

, Volume 160, Issue 5, pp 1223–1238 | Cite as

The role of Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) in an Arctic ecosystem: assessed via stable isotopes and fatty acids

  • Bailey C. McMeans
  • Michael T. Arts
  • Christian Lydersen
  • Kit M. Kovacs
  • Haakon Hop
  • Stig Falk-Petersen
  • Aaron T. Fisk
Original Paper


The Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) is the only shark species known to inhabit ice-covered seas in the North Atlantic, but remains a missing component in most studies of Arctic food webs. In the present study, stable isotopes (SIs) of nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) and fatty acids (FAs) were analyzed to identify the role of Greenland sharks (sampled during June 2008–2009) in Kongsfjorden, a productive fjord on the west coast of Svalbard, Norway (~79ºN, 12–13ºE). The Greenland shark fed at a high trophic position (4.8) based on δ15N values, and δ13C confirmed that most (70 %) of their carbon was derived from phytoplankton-based food chains, which is consistent with a heavy reliance on pelagic teleosts and seals. Greenland sharks from Kongsfjorden had fatty acid profiles in both muscle and plasma (e.g., low 20:1n-9, high 22:5n-3) that suggested a low portion of Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) and high proportion of gadoids and seals in their diet compared to Greenland sharks sampled in Cumberland Sound, Canada, during April 2008, which were previously shown to derive much of their energy from Greenland halibut. The high proportions of seal fatty acids in both slow- (muscle) and fast- (plasma) turnover tissues indicate that trophic interactions between Greenland sharks and seals in Kongsfjorden are a common occurrence. Results from the present study suggest that Greenland sharks likely play a unique and significant role in Arctic marine food webs as a top predator of fishes and marine mammals.


Fatty Acid Profile Marine Mammal Ringed Seal Minke Whale Bearded Seal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors thank G. Christensen, K. Frost, J.I. Karlsen, L. Lowry, H. Lund, L. Leclerc, K. Molde, Y. Watanabe, the crew on RV Lance for assistance in the field, J. Chao, M. Rudy, and S. Wolfaardt for their help with lipid analyses, and M. Nyman for the Kongsfjorden ringed seal data from 1996. We are grateful for helpful and constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers. This work was funded by the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Norwegian Research Council (CL, KMK) and a grant from the Government of Canada Program for International Polar Year 2007/2008 (ATF and MTA, grant IPY C144).

Supplementary material

227_2013_2174_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 27 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bailey C. McMeans
    • 1
  • Michael T. Arts
    • 2
  • Christian Lydersen
    • 3
  • Kit M. Kovacs
    • 3
  • Haakon Hop
    • 3
  • Stig Falk-Petersen
    • 3
  • Aaron T. Fisk
    • 1
  1. 1.Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of WindsorWindsorCanada
  2. 2.National Water Research Institute, Environment CanadaBurlingtonCanada
  3. 3.Norwegian Polar InstituteTromsøNorway

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