Inter-individual differences in contamination profiles as tracer of social group association in stranded sperm whales
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Ecological and physiological factors lead to different contamination patterns in individual marine mammals. The objective of the present study was to assess whether variations in contamination profiles are indicative of social structures of young male sperm whales as they might reflect a variation in feeding preferences and/or in utilized feeding grounds. We used a total of 61 variables associated with organic compounds and trace element concentrations measured in muscle, liver, kidney and blubber gained from 24 sperm whales that stranded in the North Sea in January and February 2016. Combining contaminant and genetic data, there is evidence for at least two cohorts with different origin among these stranded sperm whales; one from the Canary Island region and one from the northern part of the Atlantic. While genetic data unravel relatedness and kinship, contamination data integrate over areas, where animals occured during their lifetime. Especially in long-lived animals with a large migratory potential, as sperm whales, contamination data may carry highly relevant information about aggregation through time and space.
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