Grey seal diet analysis in Ireland highlights the importance of using multiple diagnostic features

  • Gosch M
  • Hernandez-Milian G
  • Rogan E
  • et al.
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Seals and humans are top predators in many marine ecosystems, often targeting the same food resource. With global declines in fish stocks, competition between these top predators is of increasing interest to scientists and resource managers. To understand and quantify this competition, robust data on the diet of seals are necessary. We present new information on the diet of grey seals Halichoerus grypus from a colony on Great Blasket Island, southwest Ireland, with particular reference to commercially important prey species such as salmonids. Inter-annual vari- ation in diet was investigated based on the recovery and identification of sagittal fish otoliths, bones and cephalopod beaks from faecal samples collected in 2009 and 2010. A total of 939 prey items were recovered, representing a minimum of 41 prey species. Thirty species were identified from otoliths while a further 11 species, including salmonids, were identified from additional diagnostic structures. The diet of grey seals was largely dominated by Gadiformes (21% corrected biomass), particularly Trisopterus spp., which contributed 7% in terms of corrected biomass and 52% by frequency of occurrence, while salmonids comprised over 36% of diet by corrected biomass. Inter-annual variation in sandeel (Ammodytidae) and blue whiting Micromesistius poutassou abundance was apparent, while the former was an important contributor to the diet in terms of corrected biomass (11%). The results support the principle that an ‘all structures’ approach to pinniped diet estimation can significantly increase the rate of detection for most fish groups, and result in improved estimation of seal diet.




Gosch, M., Hernandez-Milian, G., Rogan, E., Jessopp, M., & Cronin, M. (2014). Grey seal diet analysis in Ireland highlights the importance of using multiple diagnostic features. Aquatic Biology, 20(2), 155–167.

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