Aquat. Living Resour.
Volume 28, Number 1, January-March 2015
|Page(s)||11 - 19|
|Published online||22 April 2015|
Diet of the harbour seal Phoca vitulina: implication for the flatfish nursery in the Bay of Somme (English Channel, France)
Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, University of
British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall,
2 Observatoire PELAGIS, Systèmes d’Observation pour la Conservation des Mammifères et Oiseaux marins, UMS 3462, CNRS/Université de La Rochelle, 17071 La Rochelle, France
3 Picardie Nature, 1 rue de Croy, 80000 Amiens, France
4 Littoral, Environnement et Sociétés, UMR 7266, Université de La Rochelle/CNRS, 2 rue Olympe de Gouges, 17032 La Rochelle Cedex, France
a Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received: 26 February 2014
Accepted: 3 March 2015
Changes in marine species abundance can impact ecosystems’ stability and sustainability of fisheries. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) are top predator occupying highest trophic level in coastal marine food webs. Although, the overall European population decline, harbour seals have increased dramatically since the 1990’s at the southern limit of their European distribution along the French coast of the English Channel. However, little is known about the feeding habits of the expanding peripheral populations limiting the assessment of the role and the impact of this predator in these coastal ecosystems. Here, we investigated the sex-specific diet of harbour seals during summer in the Bay of Somme, the largest colony in the English Channel. We collected 91 faecal samples from haul-out sites mainly used by harbour seal but also by few grey seals. Molecular methods have been used to discard grey seal samples and differentiate gender. Collectively, the 86 faecal samples of harbour seals contained the remains of 3327 prey belonging to at least 13 fish species, and represented ~109 kg of consumed fish (of which 85% were soles and plaices). Most of the fish consumed were juvenile and small flatfish (Buglossidium luteum, Microchirus variegatus, Solea vulgaris, Pegusa lascaris, Pleuronectes platessa and Platichthys flesus). Hard-part identification further showed a similar diet between the sexes in terms of primary prey consumed, but a greater diversity of preys in the male diet. The dependence of harbour seals on flatfish has not been reported elsewhere and has significant implications for the sustainability of the important flatfish nursery in the Bay of Somme. Consumption estimation and ecosystem modelling are now required to provide robust assessment of the effect of harbour seal predation on population dynamics of the flatfish nursery, on ecosystem of the Bay of Biscay at-large, and finally on interactions with fisheries.
Key words: Diet / Foraging ecology / Molecular scatology / Sex assignment / Species assignment / Harbour seal / Pinniped
© EDP Sciences, IFREMER, IRD 2015
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