Feeding ecology and diet shift of long-beaked common dolphins Delphinus Capensis (Gray 1828) incidentally caught in anti-shark nets off Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

Ambrose, Shan Taryn (2010) Feeding ecology and diet shift of long-beaked common dolphins Delphinus Capensis (Gray 1828) incidentally caught in anti-shark nets off Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




The long-beaked common dolphin, Delphinus capensis (Gray 1828), is one of the most enigmatic predators feeding in the annual sardine run (Sardinops sagax) off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa. In recent years, unpredictable inter-annual variations in the timing, spatial extent and intensity of the sardine run have been documented, possibly resulting in changes in the suite of prey available to the common dolphin during winter. Although the diets of a number of predators during the sardine run have been studied in detail (e.g. sharks and flying seabirds), little is known about the diet of long-beaked common dolphins during this period. Each year, a low number of common dolphins are incidentally caught in the anti-shark nets in the waters of KwaZulu-Natal. These captures provide a valuable source of data on selected aspects of the ecology of the long-beaked common dolphins along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. The objective of this study was to provide new dietary data for the common dolphins feeding in the waters of KwaZulu-Natal during winter over the period 2000 to 2009, as well as to determine if any dietary changes had taken place since the common dolphin diet was last assessed, over 15 years ago. Stomach contents from 95 common dolphins (55 females, 40 males) caught between 2000 and 2009 were analysed and compared to historical data from dolphins caught between 1974 and 1992. Mesopelagic fish and squid dominated the diet, with 23 fish and 5 squid species represented in adult dolphins. Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) indicated that there was no resource partitioning between adult male and female dolphins. Numerical analyses indicated that there was a shift in the principal prey species consumed by the dolphins over the past decade, particularly during the winter. Prior to 1992, sardine comprised up to 49% of the total stomach contents, while chub mackerel (Scomber japonicus) was the dominant prey item (66% by mass) recorded in the stomach contents over the period 2000 to 2009. The shift in the relative contributions of sardine and mackerel in the diets of the dolphin appeared to correspond to fluctuations in the availability of the two principal prey species. Between 2000 and 2009, the diversity of the dolphins‟ diets was highest during the sardine run, reflecting the presence of a wide suite of predatory teleosts in the waters of KwaZulu-Natal during the annual sardine run. Conversely, prior to 2000, the diet was dominated by sardine during the peak of the sardine run, whilst diet diversity increased after this period. Apart from sardine and chub mackerel, elf (Pomatomus saltatrix), maasbanker (Trachurus delagoa), strepie (Sarpa salpa) and flying fish (Exocoetid sp.) also formed important components of the diet both prior to 1992, and over the last decade. Blubber thickness was assessed as an indicator of animal condition. No significant change in blubber total weight (R2 = 0.0016, N = 185), nor dorsal, lateral or ventral blubber thickness (R2 = 0.3146, R2 = 0.0003, and R2 = 0.0003 respectively, N = 78) was seen over the last 30 years (1970 to 2009). Results of stable isotope analyses conducted on tissue derived from the teeth of D. capensis indicated that there has been no significant shift in the trophic position (δ15N) and potential prey consumed (δ13C) over the corresponding period. These data would suggest that the long-beaked common dolphins along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline can be considered as opportunistic predators generally consuming the most abundant prey species available locally. As common dolphins feed opportunistically, this dietary shift appears to indicate changes in the shoaling characteristics of the most abundant fish prey in KwaZulu-Natal during winter. Given the “Data Deficient” status of the long-beaked common dolphin on the IUCN Red Data List, and the strong climatic forcing of the sardine run, such dietary data have important implications for their conservation in the light of expanding fisheries and climate change.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Common dolphin, South Africa, Kwazulu-Natal, Ecology, Sardinops sagax
Subjects:Q Science > QL Zoology > Chordates. Vertebrates > Mammals
Q Science > QL Zoology > Animal behaviour
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Science > Zoology & Entomology
ID Code:2145
Deposited By: Ms Chantel Clack
Deposited On:01 Nov 2011 09:41
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:22
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