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J Exp Biol. 2006 Nov;209(Pt 22):4524-32.

Identifying and quantifying prey consumption using stomach temperature change in pinnipeds.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, Long Marine Laboratory, 100 Shaffer Road, CA 95064, USA.


For many marine predators knowledge of foraging behavior is limited to inferences based on changes in diving or movement patterns at sea. This results in an incomplete and potentially inaccurate view of the foraging ecology of a species. This study examined the use of stomach temperature telemetry to identify and quantify prey consumed in both a phocid (northern elephant seal Mirounga angustirostris) and an otariid (California sea lion Zalophus californianus) species. In addition, we used opportunistic water consumption by northern elephant seals to test a method to distinguish between prey and water ingestion. Over 96% of feedings could be identified based on a decline in stomach temperature, even when meals were separated by as little as 70 min. Water consumption was distinguishable from prey consumption, as the rate of recovery in stomach temperature was significantly faster for water (F(1,142) = 79.2, P < 0.01). However, using this method, the overlap in recovery rates between prey and water resulted in 30.6% of water ingestion events being misclassified as prey ingestion. For both species, the integral calculated from the decline in stomach temperature over time (area above the curve) could be used to estimate mass consumed, when adjusted for the temperature difference between the prey and core body temperature. For California sea lions, there was a significant effect of individual on the ability to quantify prey consumed, which was not related to their mass or sex. Although many factors may influence the ability to use stomach temperature change to identify and quantify prey consumed, this study has shown measures of stomach temperature can accurately identify prey consumption and provide an estimate of meal mass, allowing for a greater understanding of the feeding behavior of marine mammals.

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