[MARMAM] New publication on fine-scale sexual segregation in Mediterranean sperm whales

Enrico Pirotta pirotts at libero.it
Fri Nov 13 02:09:33 PST 2020

Dear MARMAM colleagues,

We are pleased to announce that the following paper is now available online:

Enrico Pirotta, Morgana Vighi, José María Brotons, Eileen Dillane, Margalida Cerdà, Luke Rendell. 2020. Stable isotopes suggest fine-scale sexual segregation in an isolated, endangered sperm whale population. Marine Ecology Progress Series 654: 209-218.

Sexual segregation is common among marine mammals, leading to intraspecific differences in diet, diving behaviour, home range size and even latitudinal distribution and migratory patterns. Sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus present one of the most extreme examples of sexual dimorphism both in size and social structure, with males and females segregating at different latitudes across most of their range, but the underlying ecological drivers remain unclear. Studying fine-scale dietary and habitat differences where the sexes occur in sympatry could therefore provide insights into the mechanisms underpinning their large-scale segregation. In this study, we analysed the carbon and nitrogen stable isotope values in the skin of males and females from an isolated, endangered population inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea, sampled in a region where the sexes occur and feed regularly in the summer months but show subtle differences in habitat preference. We found marked differences in both carbon and nitrogen isotopic values between the sexes, indicating that they could be targeting prey items in different trophic levels and habitats. Combined with the evidence from habitat modelling studies, our results suggest that female and male sperm whales segregate even in the latitudinally restricted Mediterranean population, at a much smaller scale. This sympatric, fine-scale sexual segregation suggests that reduction of competition may have been a key factor in the evolution of the social structure and large-scale latitudinal segregation of this species.

Keywords:  Dietary differences · Sexual segregation · Dimorphism · Sperm whale · Physeter macrocephalus · Mediterranean Sea

A PDF copy of the paper can be downloaded from:


Please do not hesitate to contact me for any question regarding our work.

Best Regards,
Enrico Pirotta
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