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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1993 Jan 29;339(1287):67-82.

The diet of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus Linnaeus 1758) off the Azores.

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Ancarva, Southdown, Millbrook, Torpoint, U.K.


Stomach contents from 17 sperm whales, 15 males and two females, caught during commercial activities in 1981-1984 in the Azores region were identified and measured. A total of 28,738 cephalopods and 16 fish were represented in the collections. In addition, there were tunicates in two whales and man-made products in three whales. None of the stomachs were empty. Flesh was present in 94.1% and indigestible fragments alone, including mandibles (beaks) of cephalopods, were present in 5.9% of the stomachs. Twelve species of cephalopod were represented by flesh and 40 species were represented by lower beaks. The cephalopod families contributing food to the whales in this region are, in order of their contribution by estimated mass, the Octopoteuthidae (39.8%), the Histioteuthidae (32.7%), the Architeuthidae (12.1%), the Lepidoteuthidae (4.5%), the Ommastrephidae (3.4%), the Pholidoteuthidae (2.1%), the Cycloteuthidae (1.9%), the Cranchiidae (1.7%) and eight other families each contributing less than 1% by mass. Presence of Gonatus beaks in the stomachs show which whales have migrated southwards to the Azores just prior to capture and the presence of a large Megalocranchia species possibly shows which whales have migrated from higher latitudes off Iceland. However, the presence of Teuthowenia maculata shows which whales came north from the West coast of Africa, just prior to capture. The modal mass of cephalopods consumed is 400-450 g which represents 0.00001 of the whales' body mass. 77.5% of the species eaten have luminous organs and 82% of the species are neutrally buoyant. It seems likely that the sperm whale is obtaining 77% of its food by swimming through luminous shoals of slow-swimming, neutrally bouyant squids and only about 23% by chasing faster swimming, larger cephalopods. Cephalopods not previously recorded from the North Atlantic are Onychoteuthis boreali-japonicus, and Histioteuthis bonnellii corpuscula. Histioteuthis ?miranda may have been collected by the whales much further south than the Azores. Species not recorded previously in the diet of sperm whales in the North Atlantic are Ommastrephes bartrami, Gonatus steenstrupi, Histioteuthis ?miranda, H. bonnellii corpuscula, H. meleagroteuthis, Discoteuthis laciniosa, Mastigoteuthis species, Chiroteuthis species, ?Helicocranchia, Liocranchia reinhardti, and ?Liguriella.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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