The diet of strap-toothed whales (Mesoplodon layardii)



The food habits of strap-toothed whales (Mesoplodon layardii) were examined in detail using stomach contents from 14 stranded whales found on South African and New Zealand coasts. Although a few unidentified fish otoliths and crustacean remains were found in two of these stomachs, 24 species of oceanic squids (some of which occur at a great depth) accounted for 94.8% of counted prey items (n= 232).Histioteuthis sp. and Taonius pavo were the predominant prey species (25.0 and 17.2% by number, 21.4 and 19.9% by mass, respectively). The presence of sub-Antarctic squid species suggested a northward migration to South African waters in late summer/autumn. Prey sizes were compared between males with fully grown strap-teeth and females/immature males without erupted teeth, using dorsal mantle lengths (DML) and weights of squids estimated from beak measurements. Although females/immature males ate longer squids than males, there was no significant difference in the estimated weights of squids eaten by the two groups. The presence of fully-erupted teeth in adult males, therefore, did not seem to influence the size of prey ingested, even though an adult male could only open its jaws about half as wide as a female. In general, the sizes of cephalopods eaten by strap-toothed whales were not significantly different from those eaten by smaller odontocetes, such as spotted dolphins and dwarf sperm whales, but were significantly smaller than those eaten by larger odontocetes, such as false killer, long-finned pilot, Cuvier's beaked, and southern bottlenose whales.