Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK

Research Article

Review of Data on Diets of Beaked Whales: Evidence of Niche Separation and Geographic Segregation

C.D.  MacLeod a1c1, M.B.  Santos a1 and G.J.  Pierce a1
a1 Department of Zoology, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK


This study reviewed published data on dietary preferences of beaked whales (Ziphiidae) from stomach contents analysis. Detailed data were only available for three of the six beaked whale genera (Hyperoodon, Mesoplodon and Ziphius). Stomach samples of these three beaked whale genera primarily contained cephalopod and fish remains, although some also contained crustaceans. Mesoplodon spp. were found to contain the most fish, with some species containing nothing but fish remains, while the southern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon planifrons) and Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) rarely, if ever, contained fish. Of cephalopods identified, Histioteuthid, Gonatid, Cranchiid and Onychoteuthid species usually contributed most to prey numbers and biomass for all beaked whale genera. There was a wide range of species and families of cephalopods recorded from stomach contents, with no obvious preference for bioluminescent prey species, vertical migrating prey species or prey species with specific body compositions. Whales of the genus Mesoplodon generally contained smaller prey, such as cephalopods under 500 g in weight, compared with other beaked whales. Hyperoodon and Ziphius frequently contained much larger cephalopods with many important prey species having a mean weight of over 1000 g. This suggests that Mesoplodon occupies a separate dietary niche from Hyperoodon and Ziphius, which may be an example of niche segregation. In contrast, Hyperoodon and Ziphius appear to occupy very similar dietary niches but have geographically segregated distributions, with Hyperoodon occupying cold-temperate to polar waters and Ziphius occupying warm-temperate to tropical waters.

(Received January 16 2002)
(Accepted March 12 2003)

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