Whales' foraging strategies revealed by new technology

Jan 09, 2013

Marine biologists are beginning to understand the varied diving and foraging strategies of filter-feeding whales by analyzing data from multisensor tags attached to the animals with suction cups. Such tags, in combination with other techniques such as echolocation, are providing a wealth of fine detail about how the world's largest creatures find and trap their prey.

Recent studies on the behavior of —which filter small fish or from seawater—are described in the February issue of BioScience. Jeremy A. Goldbogen of the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington, and his colleagues point out that tags can report not only the depth but also the acceleration of the animal carrying them, which reveals information on its pitch and rolling motion. Together with special software, this can allow foraging dives to be visualized in three dimensions, along with the timing. Studying whale behavior is logistically challenging, as it may be necessary to coordinate the actions of several research vessels and large research teams. Yet despite the difficulties, patterns are becoming clear.

and bowhead whales have a very different feeding strategy from rorquals—the group that includes the biggest animal on earth, the . Right and filter-feed by swimming relatively slowly through prey patches, a mode called continuous ram feeding. This keeps their energy expenditure low and makes possible dives of 10 minutes or longer, but means they miss out on prey able to take evasive action. Rorquals, in contrast, make high-speed lunges at prey patches that enable them to catch elusive species. They must then pause to filter water engulfed in their large mouths, however, and they have to surface more often to breathe than continuous ram feeders. The new tools available mean researchers can study the efficiency of diving and foraging in different whales and relate it to the availability of prey of different types. Because whales are considered keystone predators that structure oceanic food webs, such insights will shed important light on ocean ecology.

Explore further: New planthopper species found in southern Spain

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Humpback whales catch prey with bubble-nets

Jun 24, 2011

Marine biologist David Wiley of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and others report in the latest issue of Behaviour (Volume 148, Nos. 5-6) how humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine catch prey with a ...

Choreography of submerged whale lunges revealed

Oct 11, 2012

Returning briefly to the surface for great lungfuls of air, the underwater lifestyles of whales had been a complete mystery until a small group of pioneers from various global institutions – including Malene Simon, Mark ...

Prey-tell: Why right whales linger in the Gulf of Maine

Apr 26, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- As they might with most endangered animals, scientists consider the whereabouts and activities of right whales extremely important. "It is helpful to know where they go, why they go there ...

Blue whale-sized mouthfuls make foraging super efficient

Dec 09, 2010

How much can a blue whale eat in a single mouthful and how much energy do they burn while foraging? These are the questions that Bob Shadwick from the University of British Columbia, Canada, and his colleagues ...

Recommended for you

New planthopper species found in southern Spain

4 hours ago

Not much is known about the the genus of planthopper known as Conosimus, which now includes six species after a new one was recently discovered in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula in the Spanish ...

How rockstars and peacocks attract the ladies

21 hours ago

What is it that makes rockstars so attractive to the opposite sex? Turns out Charles Darwin had it pegged hundreds of years ago – and it has a lot to do with peacocks.

Fecal transplants let packrats eat poison

Jul 21, 2014

Woodrats lost their ability to eat toxic creosote bushes after antibiotics killed their gut microbes. Woodrats that never ate the plants were able to do so after receiving fecal transplants with microbes ...

User comments : 0