Squid beaks from whale stomachs

Phil

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This is all fascinating! I had the dubious pleasure of seeing a Mesonychoteuthis beak myself a couple of months ago at the Natural History Museum in London. It was almost jet black and looked much more robust and powerful than the beak of Architeuthis.

My question is, are there any squid species that are known purely from beak specimens retrieved from Sperm whale stomachs? That is to say, are beaks occasionally found that cannot be classified and may represent undescribed species?
 

Steve O'Shea

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Absolutely Phil ... there are a few unknowns out there still!

Yes Carol, the beaks probably do digest (certainly the delicate, transparent beak margins have already digested on most of them); otherwise they supposedly are 'purged' from the system, either by vomiting or as # 2's. Having said that, however, if they were 'purged' from the system on a regular basis (supposedly very fast) then what were those Mesonychoteuthis beaks doing in there? I cannot see the whale moving at supersonic speed, from the Antarctic to central-eastern New Zealand in the space of a day or so. Obviously some beaks linger, but just how long they linger is a question I've asked myself repeatedly, and have no answer for. Quite a few Antarctic squid have been recorded from or proximal to New Zealand waters on grounds of beaks identified from stomach contents or regurgitations of these long-distance foraging marine predators (sperm whales and albatross); I don't believe a number of squid so reported from New Zealand occur anywhere near here; two of them in particular, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni and Kondakovia longimana (two Antarctic giants), and a third Psychroteuthis glacialis (quite a bit smaller) - all Antarctic dwellers (and there are more that have been reported from NZ waters but are not represented in collections by in situ captured specimens).

O
 

Steve O'Shea

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In response to Tony's question(s) I've had to go to my books (I am no sperm whale biologist). I'll digress a bit (some of this might sound a tad gory), because some of what I've tracked down is rather interesting. I'm quoting Clarke, M.R. 1980: Cephalopoda in the diet of sperm whales of the Southern Hemisphere and their bearing on sperm whale biology. Discovery Reports, 37: 1-324.

Re the diet of sperm whales, well, it is almost exclusively squid (and octopus, like Haliphron). Teleosts (fish) and elasmobranchs (sharks, rays etc.), and crustaceans generally account for a very small part of the whales diet. Not all of these large deep-sea squid that the whale eats are likely to form shoals; many may be solitary my nature (but still far more common than net captures would lead us to believe).

A little bit about the sperm whale anatomy, based on a male of 50 feet length, might be of interest to you (Clarke 1980: 49):
"The complete tract measured 215m from the opening of the oesophagus to the anus. The oesophagus (unstretched diameter 28cm and estimated at 2.2m in length) opens into the first almost round stomach (2m outside diameter). The lining of the tongue, oesophagus and first stomach is extremely tough, white in colour and has a network of furrows. To one side there is an opening (25cm diameter) into the second stomach (120cm internal length) which has a smooth soft lining anteriorly becoming longitudinally furrowed in the posterior half. Just in front of the furrowed region an opening (12 x 6cm) connects the second stomach with the narrow tubular third stomach (120cm internal length). This then opens into an expansion of the duodenum by a constricted opening with a strong sphincter. This duodenal ampulla (70cm across) opens into the small intestine which gradually broadens into the large intestine (at a position 180cm from the duodenal ampulla). The walls of the small intestine (13-19cm circumference) and large intestine (27cm circumference) have thin transverse folds (mean depth 1-1.8cm) projecting into the lumen. At a position 24m from the small intestine the large intestine broadens suddenly to form the rectum (1m in circumference and about 4m long).

The way in which the sperm whales use their mouth must be a matter of speculation but the extreme narrowness of the jaw would cause little drag if it were held open during rapid swimming or 'snapping' at cephalopods. The teeth must be used only for holding the prey because fish and squids in the stomach are often nearly undamaged. Presumably squids caught between the front of the jaws at speed are transferred to the back by forward motion of the whale because the tongue lies far back and the lips are not long enough to close the sides of the mouth so that suction generated by swallowing cannot influence food at the front of the mouth. The highly elastic tongue must aid swallowing. The tough lining of the mouth, oesophagus and first stomach is ample protection against the hooks and beaks of a struggling squid. The food is presumably retained in the first stomach until its struggles are over and then it is passed into the second stomach where digestive juices are poured upon it. Break-up of the tissues is greatly facilitated by the large numbers of nematodes (various species of Anisakis) which force their way into all the softer tissues. Mixed with the flesh there are often large numbers of cephalopod beaks and there is little doubt that these also have a macerating effect on the freshly ingested food."

..........
Well, I can't quite reconcile the individual lengths of some of the alimentary structures with the total length of 215m for the digestive tract myself, but that aside, it is an interesting account of the anatomy and possible feeding behaviour of the squid. Thought it might be of interest. In case you didn't know, only the lower jaw of the sperm whale has teeth. I've heard also that the whale might skim along the sea floor with its' jaws open, shovelling up/snapping up squid and octopus this way.
...........
With regard to how long the beaks remain in the stomach (Clarke 1980: 52, 53):
'If the average whale eats 10 meals a day it would consume 330 squids a day and the average number of beaks in the stomach [1300] would represent 4 days food. This figure, for both sexes combined, is not very different from a direct calculation of the average rate at which beaks are accumulated in whale's stomachs estimated from their food requirements [between 700-800 squids per day for the average female and 300-400 for the average male]. Dividing these figures into the average number of lower beaks recovered from sperm whale stomachs shows the average female retains the beaks for 2.1-2.5 days and the average male for 1.2-1.6 days' [slightly paraphrased].

So it doesn't sound like squid beaks are retained in the stomach for very long at all. Of course that still doesn't explain the incidence of Mesonychoteuthis beaks in the NZ-stranded sperm whale .... the whale would need to have travelled at near-supersonic speed to reach NZ from the Antarctic in such a short period of time. These are, however, 'averages'.

Hope that answers some of your questions. Haliphron (the octopus) is often recorded in the stomachs of sperm whales, but it is a large animal. Moreover, I had one beak referable to this species only, amongst the thousand plus other squid beaks, so it would appear to be a bit of a loner.
Cheers
O
 

tonmo

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...struggling...not...to crack joke.... about... strong sphincter!!! :lol:

Mixed with the flesh there are often large numbers of cephalopod beaks and there is little doubt that these also have a macerating effect on the freshly ingested food...
How's that for poetic justice?

That is a staggering amount of squid being eaten by sperm whales. Not too surprising considering their size, but still. When I visited Maui in 1992 I picked up a book on humpback whales which had similarly impressive figures on the amount of food they eat.. I can't locate the book, but I don't believe they eat squid. I do recall that their method of catching food is to swim under a school, and then produce billions of tiny bubbles which shoot upward and serve to stun the school. Then the humpback shoots upward to grab its meal. Reading about the behavior of the humpback was one of the things that got me seriously interested in sea life, and led to the creation of this site! For example, I read about how it is unknown (at least in 1992 it was unknown) why the humpback breaches, but it was observed that their eyes are often open during breaching, so it is speculated that they probably do it just to catch a glimpse of the "outside" world. How interesting!

BUT... I digress. :talker: Back to the amount of squid being devoured here -- I'm not sure how many sperm whales it is estimated there are in the world, but with that figure one could easily calculate the number of squid being eaten on a daily basis, by sperm whales alone (which I would have to imagine is their #1 predator). Which then makes me marvel at the amount of reproduction that must be going on amongst squid!

This is great stuff Steve. Only on the Internet can I sit in landlocked Pennsylvania and converse with a marine biologist in scrubs about his first-hand accounts in dealing with things plucked from our oceans. Thanks!
 

Jean

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This is exciting stuff Steve! Although, rather you than me sorting those beaks, I had enough fun :!: with the ones from my squid stomach samples!!

Just a comment, dredging back to my physical oceanography classes, isn't there water of Antarctic origins off the coast of NZ? I'm pretty sure that at least off the east coast of the south island there is Antarctic Intermediate Water (for those who are not familiar with these terms that's kinda like midwater of antarctic origins and it is distinctly different to the other water in this area-----any oceanographers feel free to jump in here, my memory may be a tad hazy!). I guess my point is this; is it not possible that these antarctic species like Mesonychotuethis may occasionally migrate up with this water and be present in NZ waters? Something like a sperm whale is far better equiped to take a "sample" than we are! If this is the case it may in part explain the time thing, the whale hadn't been feeding in the antarctic but in southern NZ???? Some speculation anyway!!

J
 

Steve O'Shea

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Very true Jean. More than anything I'd like these beasts to occur in NZ waters ... and am constantly on the search for them. The Tangaroa (the NIWA research vessel) is currently down there right now, trawling to ~ 1100m at the very bottom of NZ; they have collected some rather interesting squid so far (including fresh-fixed fully mature Todarodes and Nototodarus spp. for Kerry's thesis - if you could relay that to her I'd appreciate it - we did not have any in the collections until now).

Water masses/eddies/gyres are strange strange things. Way down 55°S last year they pulled up a specimen of the 'strictly' tropical to subtropical diamond back squid (Thysanoteuthis rhombus) at a depth of 127m and temp 15-16°C, so even this far south we still encounter species typical of equatorial regions, and very warm waters (although this specimen is so far outside of its previously recognised distribution that I wouldn't know where to look for a possible water mass/eddy/gyre origin).

I still don't have a juvenile Mesonychoteuthis in the collections from our EEZ yet - the minute one of those babies turns up you'll hear me holler for joy. Having said that, though, it is not necessary for the entire life cycle of a species to occur in any given area (cases in point Architeuthis dux and Haliphron atlanticus), so it is possible (but unlikely) that down there ~ 1000+m, 55°S, that the colossal Mesonychoteuthis rules the domain.

The distribution spots on Tony's earlier link are almost exclusively shallow-water dwelling juveniles; the adult is extremely rare!
Cheers
O
 

Jean

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Hiya,

I'll let Kerry know that, she'll be rapt! How mature are we talking about with the Nototodarus? This is just curiousity on my part as I got very few mature animals in my samples (of course they were being jigged, inshore and in very shallow water!) I had a few stage 5 animals but most were stage 2!

Any likely to be spent? A couple of my stage 5 females were possibly spent as the histological sections of the ovaries showed no eggs or even early or late stages and the ovarian tissue was very degenerate (some damage was due to freezing of course) The digestive gland was flaccid and the rest of the tissue (eg mantle) was soft not "rubbery" like the less mature individuals. I didn't find any males like that. Having said that these possibly spent animals were not in the dreadful condition of a spent Moroteuthis This was good and bad!! Good cos I didn't have to dissect it but on the other hand there is no mistaking a spent individual in Moroteuthis :D

Cheers

J
 

Steve O'Shea

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The ship returns on the 23rd December Jean; I think Kerry is here 15-21 December, so she'll miss them herself. I'll get them dispatched to you pronto at any rate (I think 4 large fresh-fixed Nototodarus; the rest have been frozen [didn't send enough buckets on the trip :( ]; I have no idea of size [as in ML] or sex at this stage). Were you not finishing up......very soon like, like before Christmas ...???? Just received some nice ommastrephids from Tonga too ... though don't ask me what genus at this point in time; they 'flew' onto the deck of the ship one night (like I'd heard of flying onychoteuthids before, but ommastrephids?).

I actually had a specific request in for fresh-fixed spent/fully mature Moroteuthis ingens; not sure if I have a spent individual fixed, but certainly did get some mature ones (and 2 x M. robsoni too). They really go grotty when they're spent (ingens; I've never seen a spent robsoni), but whatever specimens I have seen have all been frozen first ... and I think that makes them doubly grotty - it'd be nice to see if they had a cranchiid type appearance when fresh-fixed (superficial similarity only).
Toodles
O
 

Steve O'Shea

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I've just received a preliminary autopsy report for the sperm whale.

It had become stranded early (7am) 28 November 2002 on the southern side of Mahia Peninsula, NZ; by 5.45pm the animal had beached itself, and sadly had died.

It was a fully mature male, 13m in length, of an an estimated weight 30 tonnes. The cause of death really isn't known, although it is presumed the animal drowned when it became stuck on its side in the surf. Judging from the number of scars on its head and wear on the teeth it was an old animal, yet it appeared in good health and had few parasites and a good blubber layer.

Steve
 

corw314

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Hi All!

I had a question, but it was answered in the autopsy. I noticed the whale beached in the morning and died in the evening of drowning. Sad it could not be helped. I'm assuming because of the weight there was nothing anyone could do?

This whole conversation is sooo amazing to me! I really am enjoying all your comments.

Carol
 

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