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 Etnier Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Paul Baldauf Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Bernhard Riegl Ph.D


Changes in marine production play a key role in determining the trophic structure of the northeastern Pacific Ocean. This is a region of great environmental fluctuations due to modern, historical, and paleo-environmental variability recorded throughout the Holocene. These fluctuations are recorded in the bone collagen of the marine mammals that reside in these waters. Marine mammal remains from four previously excavated archaeological deposits on Unalaska Island, Alaska are used as a proxy for marine production changes throughout the Holocene (4,500 BP to 350 BP). Historic and modern samples from museum collections, subsistence harvests, and previously published data provide a distinct contrast to prehistoric marine mammals. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) derived from marine mammal bone collagen correlate to changes in marine production and food web length. The 13C and 15N of prehistoric marine mammal taxa covary through the Holocene, indicating no trophic level change with fluctuations in 13C. Changes in δ13C and δ15N of marine mammals are correlated to periods of environmental fluctuations within the Holocene. Cooler climatic periods (transitional interval, beginning of the Neoglacial Interval, and Little Ice Age) show enrichedδ13C, reflecting primary production increase, compared to warmer climate periods (end of the Neoglacial Interval into the Medieval Climatic Anomaly). Unidentified cetacean bones are isotopically distinguishable into orders Mysticeti (baleen) and Odontoceti (toothed) due to different feeding ecologies. The δ13C depletion in modern pinnipeds compared to prehistoric is likely caused by the effect of increased anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 and resulting decrease in primary production.