Eating right key to survival of whales and dolphins

November 21, 2012

In the marine world, high-energy prey make for high-energy predators. And to survive, such marine predators need to sustain the right kind of high-energy diet. Not just any prey will do, suggests a new study by researchers from the University of British Columbia and University of La Rochelle, in France.

Published today in the online journal , the study is the first to show that the survival of whales and dolphins depends on the quality of their diets and this plays an important role in conservation.

"The is that marine mammals can eat anything," says co-author Andrew Trites, a expert at UBC. "However, we found that some species of whales and dolphins require calorie rich diets to survive while others are built to live off low quality prey—and it has nothing to do with how big they are."

The team compared the diets of 11 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, and found differences in the qualities of prey consumed that could not be explained by the different body sizes of the predators. The key to understanding the differences in their diets was to look at their .

"High energy prey tend to be more mobile, and require their predators to spend more energy to catch them," says Trites. "The two have co-evolved."

Jérôme Spitz, the study's first author, says the research will help better assess the impact of resource changes to marine mammals.

"Species with high energy needs are more sensitive to depletion of their primary prey," says Spitz, a post-doctoral fellow at ULR in France, who completed the research while a visiting scholar at UBC. "It is no longer a question of how much food do whales and dolphins need, but whether they are able to get the right kinds of food to survive."

Explore further: Persistent man-made chemical pollutants found in deep-sea octopods and squids

More information:

Related Stories

Evolution of whale size linked to diet

May 20, 2010

( -- The wide range of body sizes among whales arose early in their evolution and was associated with changes in diet, according to a new study by researchers at UC Davis and UCLA. The study appears in today's ...

Blainville’s beaked whales go silent at the surface

July 27, 2011

A new study published in the journal Marine Mammal Science revealed how Blainville’s beaked whales go completely silent in an apparent stealth mode when they near the surface in an effort to avoid predators.

Ancient crocodiles ate like killer whales

September 19, 2012

(—Crocodiles are often thought of as living fossils, remaining unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. But scientists have shown this is not always the case and that 150 million years ago, their feeding mechanisms ...

Recommended for you

A common mechanism for human and bird sound production

November 27, 2015

When birds and humans sing it sounds completely different, but now new research reported in the journal Nature Communications shows that the very same physical mechanisms are at play when a bird sings and a human speaks.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.