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Interannual variation in the summer diets of harbour seals Phocavitulina at Mousa, Shetland (UK)

  • Edward G. Brown (a1), Graham J. Pierce (a2), John R.G. Hislop (a3) and M. Begoña Santos (a2)


The main prey species in the summer (July–September) diets of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) on the Island of Mousa (Shetland, UK), 1994–1997, were whiting (Merlangius merlangus), herring (Clupea harengus), sandeel (Ammodytidae) and garfish (Belone belone). Norway pout (Trisopterus esmarkii) was numerically important but comprised no more than 11% of prey weight in any year. There were marked between-year fluctuations in the relative importance of these prey, with whiting comprising 16–34% (by weight) of the diet, herring 12–28%, sandeels 7–18% and garfish 7–22%. Additional data on spring (April–June) diet were available for 1995–1997: sandeels were the most important prey (% weight) in all three years (51–60% of the diet), while herring (8–48%) and gadids (2–22%) varied in importance. The average size of fish eaten was larger than that reported in comparable studies from other areas. Harbour seals appear to have selected larger sandeels, whiting and Norway pout than the average size available in the area, as indicated by survey trawls, although between-year changes in the size of Norway pout in the diet did to some extent reflect availability. Interannual variation in the importance of Norway pout in the diet appeared to track trends in abundance, although the short time series precluded detection of a statistically significant correlation. Thus, some of our results are consistent with harbour seals feeding opportunistically while others point to selectivity, particularly for prey size. Estimated consumption of fish by the 500 harbour seals on Mousa during summer ranged from 152–195 tonnes.


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