Stable isotope profiles in sperm whale teeth: Variations between areas and sexes

Sonia Mendes, Jason Newton, Robert J. Reid, Alexandros Frantzis, Graham John Pierce

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28 Citations (Scopus)


Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) teeth were used to investigate whether variation in the chronological profiles of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios along dentine growth layers could reflect differences in ontogenetic movements and/or dietary shifts in animals from different regions and sexes, as well as to show the differences in the isotopic environments experienced by these animals. Absolute isotopic ratios ranged from -14.1 to -11.0% for carbon and 10.8 to 18. 1 %o for nitrogen, with the whale from the Indian Ocean, the two from the Mediterranean Sea and the female from the Azores presenting the most different median isotopic ratios. The Icelandic and the Indian Ocean males showed the expected decrease in delta C-13 around the age of ten, denoting male segregation from natal groups. For the latter, this was larger by almost twofold compared to other teeth, probably due to the much stronger latitudinal gradient in planktonic delta C-13 in the southern hemisphere. The Mediterranean Sea whales exhibited the lowest median delta N-15 values, probably reflecting the oligotrophy of this sea, while the male showed a marked change in isotopes around the age of 20 that could indicate a move to the eastern basin or a temporal change in basal isotopic signatures. The Atlantic females did not show a marked change in delta C-13 as expected since they stay in low latitudes throughout their lives. Stable isotope profiles in whale teeth can be used to investigate differences in the timings of ontogenetic movements and dietary history between individuals and sexes, and the biogeochemistry of different regions inhabited, and have the potential to allow inferences to be made about population substructure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-627
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • particulate organic-matter
  • ocean
  • sea
  • N-15
  • delta-C-13
  • ratios
  • diet


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