Context-Dependent Lateralized Feeding Strategies in Blue Whales

Lateralized behaviors benefit individuals by increasing task efficiency in foraging and anti-predator behaviors [1–4] . The conventional lateralization paradigm suggests individuals are left or right lateralized, although the direction of this laterality can vary for different tasks (e.g. foraging or predator inspection/avoidance). By fitting tri-axial movement sensors to blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), and by recording the direction and size of their rolls during lunge feeding events, we show how these animals differ from such a paradigm. The strength and direction of individuals’ lateralization were related to where and how the whales were feeding in the water column. Smaller rolls (≤180°) predominantly occurred at depth (>70 m), with whales being more likely to rotate clockwise around their longest axis (right lateralized). Larger rolls (>180°), conversely, occurred more often at shallower depths (<70 m) and were more likely to be performed anti-clockwise (left lateralized). More acrobatic rolls are typically used to target small, less dense krill patches near the water’s surface [5,6] , and we posit that the specialization of lateralized feeding strategies may enhance foraging efficiency in environments with heterogeneous prey distributions.


Friedlaender, A.S., J.E. Herbert-Read, E.L. Hazen, D.E. Cade, J. Calambokidis, B.L. Southall, A.K. Stimpert, and J.A. Goldbogen. 2017. Context-Dependent Lateralized Feeding Strategies in Blue Whales. Current Biology 27: R1206-R1208. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.10.023

Download PDF