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Whats On the Menu?


Presented By M.Sc candidate Jessica Flight

Complex Interactions

Seals of the NW Atlantic

Harbour Seal

Ringed Seal

Grey Seal

Bearded Seal

Hooded Seal

Harp Seal


Harp Seal Biology (Pagophilus groenlandicus)

Population 1970s the harp seal population was about 2 million animals and is now estimated at 9 million


130 kg.

Lifespan ~30 years


Harp Seal Biology


62 different prey items (6 main)
Feed primarily on Forage species: Capelin, sandlance, Arctic cod, Atlantic herring Also feed upon commercial species: Atlantic cod, redfish

Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)

Population in NW Atlantic 15,000 in 1960 to 350,000 today

(DFO 2011)

Labrador Newfoundlan d Gulf of St Lawrence

188-250 kg

Life span
30-40 years

Northeastern US to N. Labrador (Primary:

Grey Seal Biology

Many prey species, 46 (DFO 2011) Main prey items Including:


sandlance, Atlantic Herring

feed on forage species: Capelin,

Also feed on commercial species: Atlantic cod, White hake, redfish

Bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus)

Weight: 300 kg 400 kg

Population : at least 190,000 animals ( no recent

population estimates )

Distribution Circumpolar

Bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus)

Diving : mostly shallow, most less then 100m

Diet: Benthic: Arctic cod, sculpins, flatfish, shrimp, clams, crabs & octopus

Ringed seal

(Phoca hispida)
Population: no recent Assessments

Weight: 50-68 kg Distribution : Arctic basin, Hudson Bay and

Strait, Bering and Baltic seas

Ringed seal (Phoca hispida)

Diet pelagic, and benthic invertebrates and fishes Amphipod mysid Arctic cod sculpins

Diving : depth of at least 340m and can remain

submerged for 20 min+

Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina)

Weight: 90-100 kg

Distribution along the entire length of Canada's east and west coasts and is widely distributed in the eastern Canadian Arctic and Subarctic

Population in Canada has

not been estimated

Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina)

Little is known of the Arctic marine diet of the

harbour seal, but elsewhere it preys upon a wide variety of inshore fishes ( e.g. herring, flatfish), squids, and crustaceans

Diving: can dive to ~ 200m but most dives are

shallower than that ( prey found in shallower water)

Hooded seal (Cystophora cristata)

Population ~ 600,000

Distribution (highly

migratory )

Weight: MALE 408 kg (900 lbs.) FEMALE 317 kg (700 lbs.)

Diving 100m - 600 m. (75%) some very deep

Hooded seal (Cystophora cristata)

Highly varied based on region

Why look at Diets?

Possible impact of seals on ecosystems and the

recovery of depleted fish stocks

Combine methods of diet analysis to create accurate picture of predator-prey interaction


Prey consumption is estimated using a bioenergetics

model that incorporates:

estimates of numbers of individuals at different ages, energy requirements seasonal distribution diets (Hammill and Stenson, 2000).

most difficult component of these models is an

accurate estimate of diets. Types of diet analysis:

direct observation hard part analysis (HPA) polymerase chain reaction (PCR), fatty acid analysis (FAA), stable isotope analysis (SIA).

Hard Part Analysis

(Parts retained for species identification)

Squid beaks Bone Sagittal otoliths Scales Carapaces Prey lengths and weights were estimated from otolith measurements based upon regressions

Hard Part Analysis

Stomachs dissected Slurry samples taken randomly for PCR Contents rinsed through a series of sieves
Sizes 4.75, 2.0, 1.0 mm

Reconstruct ingested weight

HPA of intestines
Intestines were measured and

then cut into: upper small intestine lower small intestine large intestine rinsed through sieve stomach HPA

All sampled separately and

Followed same protocol as

Materials and Methods

Regression equations used to calc prey size


Atlantic cod (NFLD) Gadus morhua FL = 4.4986 + 0.1184 * (OL) + 0.1997 * (OL)^ 2 R^2=0.9613 FW = (10^ (-5.2106 + 3.0879 * LOG10 (FL))) * 1000 Healey 2000

Atlantic mackerel Scomber scombrus: FL = (7.33*OL) + 0.37 FW = 1.094*(OL^4.039) Proust 1996



Retention Digestion Absence


of hard

parts Method (i.e. scat vs. stomach) Meal size Seal activity level

Dealing with Biases? Numerical correction factors (NCF) Looking at method (intestine vs. stomach)

Grey Seal Diets based on HPA

Winter diet : Cabot straight



Stenson et al. (2011

PCR sample collection

Slurry samples taken randomly for PCR

DNA extracted (QIAamp)

Species-specific primers to target prey sequence

H e rri g p ri e r re su l a t n m ts 1 6 0 b p ( g e lP C R w i 1 p re y ) th

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

Herring primer results at 160bp (gel PCR with 1 prey)


Retention of otoliths long after

DNA/tissue is passed
HPA Stom.

Otolith ID

Int. 27 21


G. morhua Gadus sp.

12 4

Stenson et al. (2011

Fatty Acid Analysis

Prey fatty acids stored in predator fat Prey have specific Fatty acid signatures

that are incorporated into predator fat Identifies prey species

Biases: Unusual fat deposits Differential breakdown time of different FAs

(GRAHL-NIELSEN et al. 1999; IVERSON et al. 2004)

S ta b l I to p e e so nal s ysi

Muscle samples collected from the side of the spine, tenderloin. Analysis performed by an outside, professional lab Build up of Heavy C, N in the food chain Poor taxonomic resolution (Bias) Performed by observing the ratios of 15N and 13C

is used determine prey trophic: 15N increases with trophic level (Davenport and Bax 2002; Sherwood and Rose 2005 :area prey was from: pelagic or benthic, inshore or offshore, (Dunshea 2009; Hobson et al. 1994; McCutchan et al. 2003)


(GRAHL-NIELSEN et al. 1999; IVERSON et al. 2004)

Comparative Diet Analysis

Intestine Vs. Stomach Analysis
Sinclair et al. (2011)
HPA results may Vary Based on Location of GI tract Younger prey otoliths in the colon Small schooling fish pass quickly Larger prey items are retained and are more eroded


Marshall et al. (2010)
PCR + HPA = showed large robust otoliths maybe over represented, were as prey items with smaller, fragile otoliths may be under

Jaws/teeth and Diet

Harbour- teeth with 3-4 cusps, teeth on an angel Grey-large canines, with little cusps Harp- 3 cusps on teeth Hooded-large canines, rounded teeth with 3 cusps Ring similar to harp, difference at jaw joint, and 5 cusps Bearded- teeth small and often very eroded (almost

What do my teeth tell you about my diet???

Studying food webs

provides us with the knowledge to understand relationships among organisms in their environments, as well as the consequences of their associations.

Questions ???