HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Amy C. Hirons, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Michael Adkesson, D.V.M. DACZM

Third Advisor

David Kerstetter, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Alexander Soloviev, Ph.D.


Environmental fluctuations in the eastern Pacific Ocean are reflected in the tissues of some of its most vulnerable apex predators, the Peruvian fur seal (PFS) Arctocephalus australis ssp.and the South American sea lion (SASL) Otaria byronia.These large pinnipeds live in sympatry along the Pacific coastline of South America and forage within the neritic waters over the continental shelf. The coastal waters off Peru are a region of great environmental fluctuations due to periodic, oscillating El Niño- La Niña- Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events, which result in ecosystem-wide food web changes. Pinniped vibrissae (whiskers) are continuously growing keratinous tissues and reflect the incorporation of prey from the region. Fine resolution sampling along their length provided trophic information on a weekly to monthly time scale over several years. Vibrissae were obtained from 2010-2016 from female (n=47), male (n=17) and newborn pup (n=6) fur seals and male (n=6) sea lions collected during pinniped rookery health assessments. Stable isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) in vibrissae infer temporal primary production and dietary variations in individuals. ENSO conditions were dictated by the sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) recordings from the Niño 1+2 Index region over 12 years. Fluctuations in vibrissae δ15N were correlated to varying SSTA readings (p15N (p15N signatures (p13C revealed minor fluctuations ranging from -18.13 to -13.17‰over the 12-year period, δ13C did reveal a significant depletion and enrichment oscillation during specific points in time, such as the 2014-2016 El Niño event, which ranged from -15.09 to -13.83‰(p=0.040). Stable isotope signatures varied between genders, but not by species. Female fur seal stable isotope signatures were significantly more depleted in both δ13C and δ15N than males (p13C and δ15N were inversely correlated to each other from 2014 to 2016; this was during the strongest El Nino-Southern Oscillation event on record (p=0.002). As δ13Csignatures became more enriched, δ15N signatures depleted from 2014 until 2016. This suggests that when ENSO warm phase conditions occur, the environments resources change in historic foraging grounds, possibly forcing pinnipeds to travel farther distances offshoreto forage or altering what they feed on throughout these stressful conditions.This study serves to help understand of the impact of oceanographic influences on these pinnipeds.ENSO conditions influence the trophic dynamics and resultant survival adaptations in both of these vulnerable Peruvian marine mammals.


We acknowledge the Peruvian governmental agencies SERNANP for access inside the RNSIIPG-Punta San Juan reserve and oversight of research activities, as well as AGRORURAL for use of field facilities. All samples were collected in accordance with permits Resolución Jefatural No. 009-2010-, No.023-2011-, No. 022-2012-, No. 008-2015-, and 019-2016-SERNANP-RNSIIPG issued by the Peruvian National Service of Natural Protected Areas and the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment.