A review of the battle for food in the Barents Sea: cod vs. marine mammals

TitleA review of the battle for food in the Barents Sea: cod vs. marine mammals
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsBogstad, B, Gjøsæter, H, Haug, T, Lindstrøm, U
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Date Published2015
ISBN Number2296-701X

Cod, harp seal and minke whale are the main top predators in the Barents Sea ecosystem. In the last decade, the abundance of cod has increased considerably, and is at a record high level. In spite of this, the growth and condition of cod has remained rather stable, although some decrease is seen in size at age of large, mature cod. During the same period, the abundance of harp seals has declined whereas the minke whale stock has been at a stable level. The body condition (blubber thickness) of these two mammal stocks has, however, decreased, with the strongest decrease observed for harp seals. A possible hypothesis for explaining this is that cod outperform the marine mammal stocks in the competition for food. The main advantages for cod are most likely larger availability of food (mainly capelin) during winter-spring than for marine mammals, as well as a wider range of prey species being available to cod than to marine mammals. Harp seals are more dependent on prey items found close to the ice edge than the other two predator stocks are, which could partly explain why the performance of harp seals is worse than that of the two other main top predators in the area.