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Keywords:

  • pilot whale;
  • Globicephala melas ;
  • diet;
  • northeast Atlantic;
  • stomach content analysis

Abstract

There is little previous information on feeding habits of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) in the northeast Atlantic. The present study analyzed stomach contents of pilot whales stranded in Portugal (= 6), Galicia (northwest Spain) (= 32), and Scotland (United Kingdom) (= 10), from 1990 to 2011. These animals ranged from 213 to 555 cm in length (24 females, 19 males and 5 of unknown sex). The main prey identified were cephalopods of the families Octopodidae and Ommastrephidae, the former being numerically more important in Iberia (Portugal and Galicia) and the latter more important in Scotland, with Iberian whales also showing a more diverse diet. Multivariate analysis revealed evidence of geographical and seasonal variation in diet. Generalized Additive Modeling results indicated that more octopus (Eledone cirrhosa) were eaten in Iberia than in Scotland, more in the first half of the year, and more in larger whales. Numbers of ommastrephid squids in the stomach decreased over the study period and varied with season and whale length. This study confirms cephalopods as the main prey of pilot whales, as previously reported, although our results also suggest that, in the northeast Atlantic, ommastrephid squid are largely replaced as the main prey by octopods at lower latitudes.