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The euphausiid prey field for blue whales around a steep bathymetric feature in the southern California current system

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Euphausiids are important prey for many marine organisms and often occur in patchy aggregations. Euphausiid predators, such as blue whales, may become concentrated in the vicinity of these aggregations. We investigated an area called Nine Mile Bank (NMB) near San Diego, California, defined by an area of steep bathymetry, to determine whether the frequent whale sightings in that locality can be explained by the distribution of euphausiids across the bank and by the vertical distribution of euphausiids in the water column. Thysanoessa spinifera, the strongly preferred blue whale prey euphausiid in this area, was consistently more abundant on the bank or inshore of it than offshore. In contrast, Euphausia pacifica, a minor blue whale prey item, was much more abundant and distributed across the study region. Adults of both species were concentrated in a stratum corresponding to the feeding depth of blue whales. Other euphausiids that form a negligible part of the blue whale diet also showed no association with NMB. Both blue whales and their primary prey species Thysanoessa spinifera were more abundant on or inshore of the bank than offshore, suggesting that the bank may serve as an offshore limit of high prey abundance that helps to concentrate blue whales.

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