Kinematics of Diving and Lunge-Feeding in Fin Whales

Fin whales are among the largest predators on earth, yet little is known about their foraging behavior at depth. These whales obtain their prey by lunge-feeding, an extraordinary biomechanical event where large amounts of water and prey are engulfed and filtered. This process entails a high energetic cost that effectively decreases dive duration and increases post-dive recovery time. To examine the body mechanics of fin whales during foraging dives we attached high-resolution digital tags, equipped with a hydrophone, a depth gauge and a dual-axis accelerometer, to the backs of surfacing fin whales in the Southern California Bight. Body pitch and roll were estimated by changes in static gravitational acceleration detected by orthogonal axes of the accelerometer, while higher frequency, smaller amplitude oscillations in the accelerometer signals were interpreted as bouts of active fluking. Instantaneous velocity of the whale was determined from the magnitude of turbulent flow noise measured by the hydrophone and confirmed by kinematic analysis. Fin whales employed gliding gaits during descent, executed a series of lunges at depth and ascended to the surface by steady fluking. Our examination of body kinematics at depth reveals variable lunge-feeding behavior in the context of distinct kinematic modes, which exhibit temporal coordination of rotational torques with translational accelerations. Maximum swimming speeds during lunges match previous estimates of the flow-induced pressure needed to completely expand the buccal cavity during feeding.


Goldbogen, J.A., J. Calambokidis, R.E. Shadwick, E.M. Oleson, and M.A. McDonald. 2006. Kinematics of Diving and Lunge-Feeding in Fin Whales. Journal of Experimental Biology 209(7): 1231-1244. doi: 10.1242/jeb.02135

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