Environ Monit Assess. 2022 Oct 18;194(Suppl 1):742. doi: 10.1007/s10661-022-10020-z.
The waters adjacent to the northeastern coast of Sakhalin Island, Russia, are an important feeding ground for the endangered western gray whale. Data on the energy available to foraging whales from their prey resources is required for researchers interested in modeling the bioenergetics of whale foraging, but little energy content information is available for the benthic prey communities of gray whales in this region. In this study, we describe the energy density (ED), biomass, and total energy availability (ED × biomass) of benthic prey sampled from two gray whale foraging areas adjacent to Sakhalin Island: the nearshore and offshore feeding areas. ED varied almost seven-fold among benthic taxa, ranging from 1.11 to 7.62 kJ/g wet mass. Although there was considerable variation within most prey groups, amphipods had the highest mean ED of all of groups examined (5.58 ± 1.44 kJ/g wet mass). Small sample sizes precluded us from detecting any seasonal or spatial differences in mean ED within or among taxa; however, mean biomass in the offshore feeding area was, in some cases, an order of magnitude higher than mean estimates in the nearshore feeding area, resulting in higher mean total energy available to foraging gray whales offshore (958-3313 kJ/m2) compared to nearshore (223-495 kJ/m2). While the proportion of total energy accounted for by amphipods was variable, this prey group generally made up a higher proportion of the total energy available in the benthos of the offshore feeding area than in the benthos of the nearshore feeding area. Data presented here will be used to inform bioenergetics modeling of the vital rates of mature females in an effort to improve understanding of population growth limits for western gray whales.