Foraging Behavior of Humpback Whales: Kinematic and Respiratory Patterns Suggest a High Cost for a Lunge

Lunge feeding in rorqual whales is a drag-based feeding mechanism that is thought to entail a high energetic cost and consequently limit the maximum dive time of these extraordinarily large predators. Although the kinematics of lunge feeding in fin whales supports this hypothesis, it is unclear whether respiratory compensation occurs as a consequence of lunge-feeding activity. We used high-resolution digital tags on foraging humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) to determine the number of lunges executed per dive as well as respiratory frequency between dives. Data from two whales are reported, which together performed 58 foraging dives and 451 lunges. During one study, we tracked one tagged whale for approximately 2h and examined the spatial distribution of prey using a digital echosounder. These data were integrated with the dive profile to reveal that lunges are directed toward the upper boundary of dense krill aggregations. Foraging dives were characterized by a gliding descent, up to 15 lunges at depth, and an ascent powered by steady swimming. Longer dives were required to perform more lunges at depth and these extended apneas were followed by an increase in the number of breaths taken after a dive. Maximum dive durations during foraging were approximately half of those previously reported for singing (i.e. non-feeding) humpback whales. At the highest lunge frequencies (10 to 15 lunges per dive), respiratory rate was at least threefold higher than that of singing humpback whales that underwent a similar degree of apnea. These data suggest that the high energetic cost associated with lunge feeding in blue and fin whales also occurs in intermediate sized rorquals.


Goldbogen, J.A., J. Calambokidis, D.A. Croll, J.T. Harvey, K.M. Newton, E.M. Oleson, G. Schorr, and R.E. Shadwick. 2008. Foraging Behavior of Humpback Whales: Kinematic and Respiratory Patterns Suggest a High Cost for a Lunge. Journal of Experimental Biology 211(23): 3712-3719. doi: 10.1242/jeb.023366

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