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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

    DAO prepress abstract   -  DOI:

    Prey-induced injuries in a New Zealand fur seal inform diet, feeding behaviour, and causes of mortality

    D. P. Hocking*, F. G. Marx, W. M. G. Parker, J. P. Rule, S. G. C. Cleuren, A. D. Mitchell, M. Hunter, J. D. Bell, E. M. G. Fitzgerald, A. R. Evans

    *Corresponding author:

    ABSTRACT: New Zealand fur seals Arctocephalus forsteri are the most abundant of the four otariid (eared seal) species distributed across Australasia. Analyses of stomach contents, scats and regurgitates suggest a diet dominated by bony fish and squid, with cartilaginous species (e.g. sharks and rays) either absent or underrepresented because of a lack of preservable hard parts. Here we report on a subadult specimen from south-eastern Australia, which was found ashore emaciated and with numerous puncture wounds across its lips, cheeks, throat, and the inside of its oral cavity. Fish spines embedded in the carcass reveal that these injuries were inflicted by chimaeras and myliobatiform rays (stingrays and relatives), which matches reports on the diet of A. forsteri from New Zealand, but not South Australia. Shaking and tearing of prey at the surface may help to avoid ingestion of the venomous spines, perhaps contributing to their absence from scats and regurgitates. Nevertheless, the number and severity of the facial stab wounds, some of which led to local necrosis, likely affected the animal’s ability to feed, and may account for its death. Despite their detrimental effects, fish spine-related injuries are difficult to spot, and may be a common, albeit cryptic, type of trauma. We therefore recommend that stranded seals be systematically examined for this potentially life-threatening pathology.