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Dietary analysis of Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) as concluded from scat collection in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica

Dietary analysis of Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) as concluded from scat collection in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
Jessie McEldowney

Authors

Jessie McEldowney
University of Tasmania, University of Canterbury

Abstract

Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) in McMurdo Sound have a long history of dietary analyses, with understanding their feeding ecology essential to determining ecological role, trophic links, and prey consumption in the Ross Sea. Twenty-one faecal samples collected in summer 2009 revealed a diet primarily dominated by fish – the tentatively identified nototheniid Pleuragramma antarcticum in particular – with over 83% of samples exhibiting some evidence of piscines. Despite this, often a large percentage of samples will not contain identifiable otoliths, and as such no direct confirmation for the believed major prey item Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsonii) consumption was exhibited, especially with the tendency for Weddell seals to avoid eating the head, skin, and vertebral column. The excessive presence of plankton (in 100% of samples) has led to supporting the proposal of secondary ingestion, and similar theories have been applied to the occurrence of rocks and stones (in over 16% of samples). With all this uncertainty, the future of dietary analysis in Weddell seals is moving away from taxonomic identification of faecal hard parts, and more towards molecular methods such as DNA and stable isotope analysis, as combined methods tend to have a greater success rate than singular identification techniques.

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This page was last modified on 24 September 2013.