Environment Researchers within a whisker of discovering ocean’s secrets

Researchers within a whisker of discovering ocean’s secrets

Researchers are using the whiskers of Antarctic fur seals to work out who’s eating who in the Southern Ocean.

The University of Tasmania’s Dr Andrea Walters says information about what the seals eat is stored in their whiskers.

“Individual isotopic markers laid down in the whiskers as they grow provide a chemical record of the different types of prey, such as krill versus fish/squid,” she said.

Researchers have been able to link the seals’ movements, via tracking devices, to the chemical signatures stored in their whiskers, to determine what was eaten and where over the entire year.

“Most studies of the seals occur during the summer breeding season, when changes in foraging behaviour, diet and reproductive success have been linked to climatic variability. But year-round diet is not well known,” Dr Walters said.

Researchers say knowing who eats who, where and when is important to understanding food webs in the Southern Ocean and will help with conservation strategies and ecosystem management plans.

“This information will build a better picture of the food web that links predator to prey,” Dr Walters said.

The study will also help us understand how the food webs are responding to climate change.

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