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Feeding ecology of harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena stranded on the Galician coast (NW Spain) between 1990 and 2018

Alberto Hernandez-Gonzalez*, Camilo Saavedra, Fiona L. Read, Alfredo López, Anabela Gouveia, Pablo Covelo, Alexandre Alonso-Fernández, Francisco Velasco, M. Begoña Santos, Graham J. Pierce

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ABSTRACT: Diet studies on the endangered and genetically distinct Iberian population of the southern harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena are scarce. The present study provides updated information on the feeding ecology of this cetacean along the Galician coast (NW Spain) over the last 3 decades (1990–2018). The stomach contents of 72 stranded harbour porpoises were analysed to determine diet composition, to study which factors affect dietary variability and to estimate overlap between harbour porpoise diet and the target species of the fisheries in the study area, one of the most important fishing regions in Europe. Results showed that harbour porpoises are mainly piscivorous. We identified 33 prey taxa, but only 4 were important in the diet: fish of the genus Trisopterus, blue whiting Micromesistius poutassou, Atlantic horse mackerel Trachurus trachurus and European hake Merluccius merluccius. Interannual and ontogenic variability in the diet were statistically significant, although differences in diet between sexes or between seasons were not detected. The diet of harbour porpoises from the Galician coast shows a partial overlap with fisheries catches in the area in terms of commercial fish species (≈ 61%) and size classes (≈ 45%), confirming the potential vulnerability of the Iberian population to interactions with fishing activities (i.e. bycatch in fishing gear and/or reduced prey availability).