Feeding ecology of the common dolphin ( Delphinus delphis ) in Western Iberian waters: has the decline in sardine ( Sardina pilchardus ) affected dolphin diet?

Predator diet is expected to respond to changes in the abundance of important prey items. We investigated whether common dolphin diet has changed with changes in the pelagic fish community off the Iberian Peninsula in recent years, in particular with reference to the decline of sardine (Sardina pilchardus) and the increase of Atlantic chub mackerel (Scomber colias) and scads (Trachurus spp.), and estimated how much fish was removed by common dolphins in coastal waters of mainland Portugal. Based on analysis of stomach contents of stranded animals from 2010 to 2013 (n = 150), we related diet composition to sardine abundance, dolphin size and sex, season and region. Despite the decline in sardine stocks in recent years, sardines were the most important prey of common dolphins, as was previously reported in the 1990s, followed by chub mackerel and scads. However, small sardines have disappeared from the diet, consistent with recent poor recruitment to the stock. The relative importance of these pelagic species in the diet increased significantly with increasing dolphin length. The dietary importance of chub mackerel also varied regionally, with higher intake on the southern coast. Finally, we compared the estimated biomass of fish removed by dolphins with that taken by fisheries. We found that even with the severe quota restrictions on sardine catches, total biomass removed by fisheries was over five times greater than the estimated removal by common dolphins. Our results confirm the previously reported preference for energy-rich prey, especially sardine, suggesting that common dolphins in Portuguese waters specialise in feeding on this species.

Glossaire technique

Montant de prise affecté. Peut faire référence à une pêcherie comme une...
Nom vernaculaire de Sardina pilchardus, espèce de poisson de la famille...
Poissons de la famille des Clupeidae, ordre des Clupeiformes (harengs).