Individuals of different sex or age can vary in their prey and habitat resource use due to differences in behaviour, life history, energetic need, or size. Harbour porpoises are small cetaceans that need to feed constantly to meet their high metabolic demands. In West Greenland, the species has a unique offshore, deep-water ecology. Here, we use bone collagen carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope compositions to elucidate sex and size differences in the foraging ecology of harbour porpoises from this region. Female harbour porpoises are larger than males; we find females have a higher trophic level, and δ15N significantly positively correlates with size for females. This indicates that size may matter in the ability of females to handle larger prey and/or dive deeper to catch higher trophic level prey. The results suggest that females, which also nurse their calves, may be under different ecological constraints than males. We also analysed the harbour porpoise data with available stable isotope data from Greenland populations of belugas and narwhals. We find that harbour porpoises have a lower trophic level than the other species, which is consistent with their smaller body size, and their diet consisting primarily of capelin. Furthermore, harbour porpoises have the largest ecological niche of the three species, in accordance with tagging studies indicating they have a wider range than belugas and narwhals and occur in shelf and deep offshore waters of the sub-arctic and North Atlantic.
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We thank Peter Rask Moller and Daniel Klingberg Johansson for access to the harbour porpoise collections of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, and in locating the specimens. We also thank the hunters who collected the specimens in Maniitsoq, Greenland. We thank René Swift for making the map for Fig. 1. We also thank the reviewers for their input. ML was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Greenland Research Council.
ML was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Greenland Research Council.
Conflict of interest
We declare we have no conflict of interest. We declare that all applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for sampling, care and experimental use of organisms for the study have been followed and all necessary approvals have been obtained. Our work is based on skull specimens already hosted at the National History Museum Denmark.
Our study is based on specimens already hosted at the Natural History Museum Denmark and did not require ethics approval.
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Louis, M., Routledge, J., Heide-Jørgensen, M.P. et al. Sex and size matter: foraging ecology of offshore harbour porpoises in waters around Greenland. Mar Biol 169, 140 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-022-04123-x