Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 17, Issue 2–3, pp 295–303 | Cite as

The diet of pygmy sperm whales, Kogia breviceps, stranded in New Zealand: implications for conservation

  • Emma Beatson
Original Paper


The stomach contents of 27 pygmy sperm whales, Kogia breviceps, stranded on New Zealand beaches between 1991 and 2003 are reported. These individuals comprise 16 males, 10 females, and one for which no sex information is available. The diet was found to include fish and crustaceans, but is comprised primarily of cephalopods, with 0–526 lower beaks, representing an estimated maximum of c. 60 kg of cephalopod prey consumed by any one whale. Cephalopod prey is attributed to 23 species from 13 families, and is dominated by juvenile individuals of the families Histioteuthididae and Cranchiidae (adults of which usually occur at depths exceeding 400 m). Perceived threats to this whale, particularly those affecting distribution and abundance of prey species, are also discussed. These are the first data reporting the diet of this whale species in New Zealand waters. A comparison of the diet of K. breviceps is made with that of the sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus from New Zealand waters, and with the diet of Kogia known elsewhere.


Pygmy sperm whale Kogia Diet Cephalopods Strandings Fisheries 



I wish to thank the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) for collection of stomach samples from stranding events, as well as Padraig Duignan and Mana Stratton (Massey University) for archiving and providing access to samples. Bruce Marshall (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) made specimens from the Museum of New Zealand cephalopod collection available for loan. I also acknowledge funding support from the Royal Society of New Zealand BAYERboost scholarship program, and thank Dr. Steve O’Shea (Auckland University of Technology) for comments on earlier drafts.


  1. Baird RW, Nelson D, Lien J, Nagorsen DW (1994) The status of the pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps, in Canada. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 110:525–532Google Scholar
  2. Barros NB, Clarke MR (2002) In: Perrin WF, Würsig B, Thewissen JGM (eds) The encyclopedia of marine mammals, Academic Press, San Diego. 1414 ppGoogle Scholar
  3. Brabyn MW (1991) An analysis of the New Zealand whale stranding record. science and research series. Report No. 29. Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand, p 47Google Scholar
  4. Candela SM (1987) Cephalopod prey of pygmy and dwarf sperm whales (Kogia breviceps and K. simus) stranded in Florida and Georgia. Abstract. Seventh biennial conference on the biology of marine mammals, Dec. 5–7, 1987. Miami, Florida, USA, p 9Google Scholar
  5. Clarke MR (1962) The indentification of cephalopod ‘beaks’ and relationship between beak size and total body weight. Bull British Museum (Natural History) Zoolo Series 8(10):419–480Google Scholar
  6. Clarke MR (1980) Cephalopoda in the diet of sperm whales of the southern hemisphere and their bearing on sperm whale biology. Discovery Reports 37:1–324Google Scholar
  7. Clarke MR (ed) (1986) A Handbook for the identification of cephalopod beaks. Claredon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  8. Clarke MR (1996a) The role of cephalopods in the world’s oceans: general conclusions and the future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B 351:1105–1112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clarke MR (1996b) Cephalopods as prey: cetaceans. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B 351:1053–1065CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cryer M, Hartill B, O’Shea S (2002) Modification of marine benthos by trawling: towards a generalization for the deep ocean? Ecological Applications 12(6):1824–1839Google Scholar
  11. Dalebout ML (2002) Species identity, genetic diversity and molecular systematic relationships among the Ziphiidae (beaked whales). Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, 385 ppGoogle Scholar
  12. dos Santos RA, Haimovici M (2001) Cephalopods in the diet of marine mammals stranded or incidentally caught along southeastern and southern Brazil (21–34°S). Fisheries Research 52:99–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. dos Santos RA, Haimovici M (2002) Cephalopods in the trophic relations off southern Brazil. Bulletin of Marine Science 71(2):753–770Google Scholar
  14. Eliason JJ, Houck WJ (1986) Notes on the biology of a gravid pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) from California. Cetology 51:1–5Google Scholar
  15. Garrigue C, Fernandez JM, Badie C, Bernard C, Greaves J, Trescinski M, Rivaton J (2000) Impacts of human activities on cetaceans in the south west Pacific Ocean by measuring Cs-137, K-40 and Pb-210. Paper presented to SPERA 2000 Conference, June 2000, Noumea, New CaledoniaGoogle Scholar
  16. Gomez-Villota F (2006) Sperm whale diet in New Zealand. Unpublished MAppSc thesis, Auckland University of Technology, 231 ppGoogle Scholar
  17. Hitchmough R (comp.) (2002) New Zealand Threat Classification lists 2002 (Department of Conservation) Threatened species occasional publication 23, 210 ppGoogle Scholar
  18. Hunt JC, Seibel BA (2000) Life history of Gonatus onyx (Cephalopoda:Teuthoidea): ontogenetic changes in habitat, behaviour and physiology. Marine Biol 136:543–552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Imber MJ (1975) Lycoteuthid squid as prey of petrels in New Zealand seas. New Zealand J Marine Freshwater Res 9:483–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Klages N, Cockcroft VG, Best PB (1989) Stomach contents of pygmy Kogia breviceps and dwarf K. simus sperm whales stranded on South African beaches. Abstract. 8th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Dec. 7–11, 1989, Pacific Grove, CA, pp 35Google Scholar
  21. Leatherwood S, Reeves RR, Foster L (1983) The Sierra Club handbook of whales and dolphins. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, pp 90–93Google Scholar
  22. Lu CC, Clarke MR (1975) Vertical distribution of cephalopods at 11°N, 20°W in the North Atlantic. J Marine Biol Asso UK 55:369–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lu CC, Ickeringill R (2002) Cephalopod beak identification and biomass estimation techniques: tools for dietary studies of southern Australian finfishes. Museum Victoria Sci Rep 6:1–65Google Scholar
  24. MacLeod CD, Santos MB, Pierce GJ (2003) Review of data on diets of beaked whales: evidence of niche separation and geographic segregation. J Marine Biol Asso UK 83:651–665CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Martins HR, Clarke MR, Reiner F, Santos RS (1985) A pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps (Blainville, 1838) (Cetacea:Odontoceti) stranded on Faial Island, Azores, with notes on cephalopod beaks in stomach. Arquipelago 6:63–70Google Scholar
  26. Nelson D, Desbrosse A, Lien J, Ostrom P, Seton R (1991) A new stranding record of the pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps, in waters off eastern Canada. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 105(3):407–408Google Scholar
  27. O’Shea, S (1999) The marine fauna of New Zealand: Octopoda (Mollusca:Cephalopoda). NIWA Biodiversity Memoir 112, 280 ppGoogle Scholar
  28. O’Shea S, Bolstad KS, Ritchie PA (2004) First records of egg masses of Nototodarus gouldi McCoy, 1888 (Cephalopoda:Ommastrephidae), with comments on egg-mass susceptibility to damage by fisheries trawl. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 31:161–166Google Scholar
  29. Paquegnat LH (1965) The bathypelagic mysid Gnathophausia (Crustacea) and its distribution in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Pacific Science 19:399–421Google Scholar
  30. Pinkas L, Oliphant MS, Iverson ILK (1971) Food habits of the albacore, bluefin tuna, and bonito in California waters. California Dept Fish Game Fish Bull 152:11–105Google Scholar
  31. Plön SEE, Bernard RTF, Klages NTK, Cockcroft VG (1999) Stomach content analysis of pygmy and dwarf sperm whales and its ecological implications: is there niche partitioning? European Research on Cetaceans, 13. Proceedings of the 13th Annual conference of the European Cetacean Society, Valencia, Spain, 5–8 April 1999Google Scholar
  32. Ross GJB (1979) Records of pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, genus Kogia, from southern Africa, with biological notes and some comparisons. Annals of the Cape Provincial Museums (Natural History) 11:259–327Google Scholar
  33. Ross GJB (1984) The smaller cetaceans of the south east coast of southern Africa. Annals of the Cape Province Museums (Natural History) 15:173–410Google Scholar
  34. Secchi ER, Campolom MB, Moller L (1994) Notas sobre o encalhe de dois cachalotes pigmeus Kogia breviceps NA costa sul do Rio Grande do sul-Brasil. In: Oporto JA (ed) Anales de la Reunion de trabajo de Especialistas en mamiferos Aquaticos de America del sur 12–15 Nov. 1990, Chile, pp 244–262Google Scholar
  35. Sekiguchi K, Klages NTW, Best PB (1992) Comparative analysis of the diets of smaller odontocete cetaceans along the coast of southern Africa. South African J Marine Sci 12:843–861Google Scholar
  36. Tuohy M, Stratton M, Duignan P, Jones G, Davies A, Smith MH, Quirk J, Van Helden A, Plön S, Baker CS (2001) Pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) strandings in New Zealand: Distribution patterns based on age, sex, and reproductive status. 14th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Vancouver, Canada. Nov.28–Dec.3. 2001, p. 219Google Scholar
  37. Vidal O (1987) Recent records of pygmy sperm whales in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Marine Mammal Sci 3(4):354–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Voss NA (1985) Systematics, biology and biogeography of the Cranchiid cephalopod genus Teuthowenia (Oegopsida). Bull Marine Sci 36:1–85Google Scholar
  39. Wang MC, Walker WA, Shao KT, Chou LS (2002) Comparative analysis of the diets of pygmy sperm whales and dwarf sperm whales in Taiwanese waters. Acta Zoologica Taiwanica 13(2):53–62Google Scholar
  40. Wolff GA (1982) A beak key for eight eastern tropical cephalopod species with relationships between their beak dimension and size. Fishery Bull 80(2):357–370Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Earth and Oceanic Sciences Research InstituteAuckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations