Stomach contents were collected from 36 sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) involved in two mass stranding events during February 1998 along the west coastline of Tasmania, Australia. Contents were dominated by oceanic cephalopods, with a total of 101 883 cephalopod beaks representing 48 species from 14 families of Teuthids, two species from two families of Octopods, and a single Vampyromorph species identified. Species diversity was higher in these animals than other sperm whales studied in the southern hemisphere, with samples containing an average of (±s.d.) 28.4 ± 11.1 species per sample. Diet samples were dominated by subtropical and muscular cephalopod species. Members of the family Histioteuthidae were the most important numerically, and were also important in terms of estimated reconstituted mass, although members of the Onychoteuthidae were the most dominant species in samples in terms of estimated reconstituted mass. Other families numerically important to species composition included the cranchiid, lepidoteuthid, onychoteuthid, and pholidoteuthid families, while the architeuthid, pholidoteuthid, and ommastrephid families were also important in terms of reconstituted mass. Cephalopod species composition varied with stranding site and with sex, but not with age. However, differences did not represent systemic variation with groups marked by high individual variability. Lower rostral lengths of all cephalopod species ranged from 1.3 to 40.7 mm. Calculated dorsal mantle lengths from all species ranged from 10.7 to 2640.7 mm (mean ± s.d. = 233.7 ± 215.7 mm) and estimated wet weights of cephalopod prey ranged from 2.7 to 110 233.1 g (mean ± s.d. = 828.3 ± 3073.6 g). While there were differences in the size of some cephalopod species between stranding sites and with age, this was marked by high individual variability. Differences in diet composition and prey size between sperm whales reflect individual variability in foraging success and perhaps also foraging groups related to the social structure of this species.
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