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Abstract

Analysis of teleost sagittal otoliths contained in scats has been widely used to determine the diet of seals. This method is based on the assumption that relative frequencies of otoliths in scats faithfully reflect those offish in the diet. This assumption has rarely been tested experimentally. We compared the ratios of herring (Clupea harengus) to sprat (Sprattus sprattus) otoliths in faeces (output) of captive California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) and South American fur seals (Arctocephalus australis) with the ratios at feeding (input). Sea lions and fur seals showed no consistent differences in recovery rates and partial digestion of otoliths. Output ratios deviated only slightly from input ratios, the smaller sprat otoliths being underrepresented in the output by 8%. Only about 40% of the otoliths fed to the seals were found in the scats. For both species partial digestion of otoliths led to a 16% underestimation of fish length and a 35% underestimation of fish mass.

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