Ontogenetic shift in foraging habit of ocean sunfish Mola mola from dietary and behavioral studies

Abstract

The ocean sunfish (Mola mola) is typically considered to feed on gelatinous zooplankton, but reports in the literature describe various benthic organisms being found in their stomachs. This might reflect ontogenetic dietary shift, as little was known about the foraging habit of this species. We examined their foraging habits using dietary analyses in combination with a behavioral study in Iwate, Japan (39°22′N, 141°58′E) from 2009 to 2010. Our stomach content analyses (n = 17, 31–250 cm total length) suggested that small sunfish (<50 cm) feed on benthic crustaceans, but large sunfish (>200 cm) feed on jellyfish. Larger sunfish showed higher values of both carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios. Deployment of accelerometers and animal-borne cameras on small sunfish in July (49–58 cm, n = 5) suggested their possibility of feeding, while they stayed near the seabed. This indicates that small sunfish might feed on benthic preys. Deployment of accelero-magnetometers on large sunfish in July (84–164 cm, n = 4) clarified that the large sunfish in July swam back and forth between the surface and deep water (>100 m). Temporary decelerations, which were considered to be associated with feeding of planktonic prey, were observed in deep water. Whereas deployment of accelero-magnetometers on large sunfish in November (105 cm, n = 3) showed several bursts, they swam within the mixed layer (0–100 m), which might be associated with chasing of rapid prey. These results suggest that ocean sunfish have heterogeneous diets depending on their body size and possibly season.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the Bio-Logging Science of the University of Tokyo (UTBLS), by the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (A19255001 and 12J07184), by the Research Fund for Fisheries Promotion by Otsuchi Town, and by the Cooperative Program of Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo. The procedures were approved by the ethics committee at the University of Tokyo (Institutional Animal Case and Use Committee Protocol #P09-2, P10-1). We thank Y. Watanabe and E. Sawai for their assisting and advising for this study, T. Miyajima and C. Harrod for his teaching stable isotope technique, and C. G. Meyer, A. Gleiss and Y. Akiyama for helpful comments on the draft and correction of English documents. We greatly thank fishermen in Otsuchi Bay Fisheries Association and the captain and crews of the R/V ‘Yayoi’ from the International Coastal Research Center for assistance with the fieldwork.

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Correspondence to Itsumi Nakamura.

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Communicated by J. D. R. Houghton.

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Nakamura, I., Sato, K. Ontogenetic shift in foraging habit of ocean sunfish Mola mola from dietary and behavioral studies. Mar Biol 161, 1263–1273 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-014-2416-8

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Keywords

  • Swimming Speed
  • Akaike Information Criterion
  • Syntactic Foam
  • Ontogenetic Shift
  • Whale Shark