U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in MARINE MAMMAL SCIENCE (2011) pp. 1-19; DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2011.00522.x


We used stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes to examine ontogenetic dietary changes in 289 California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) at San Miguel Island, California during 2004–2007. Tissues analyzed included fur, red blood cells, plasma, and serum. For all tissues, pups had higher δ15N values and lower δ13C values compared to adults, which indicated that pups were feeding higher trophically than older conspecifics and on a lipid-rich milk diet prior to weaning. Yearling δ15N values were slightly lower than pup or nearly indistinguishable from adult values depending on the tissue analyzed, indicating a dietary shift from maternal dependency to independent foraging. Juveniles (2–4 yr) and adults (>4 yr) had similar δ15N values indicating they fed at a similar trophic level. There did not appear to be a pronounced dietary shift in δ13C values. However, δ13C values integrated with telemetry data indicated that postweaned individuals fed in similar foraging areas. Dietary changes during early life stages may be due to differences in physiology, morphology, experience, or energetic requirements; however, young animals are able to attain the skills needed to consume adult prey types near the end of their second year of life.