Scaling of Maneuvering Performance in Baleen Whales: Larger Whales Outperform Expectations

Despite their enormous size, whales make their living as voracious predators. To catch their much smaller, more maneuverable prey, they have developed several unique locomotor strategies that require high energetic input, high mechanical power output and a surprising degree of agility. To better understand how body size affects maneuverability at the largest scale, we used bio-logging data, aerial photogrammetry and a high-throughput approach to quantify the maneuvering performance of seven species of free-swimming baleen whale. We found that as body size increases, absolute maneuvering performance decreases: larger whales use lower accelerations and perform slower pitch-changes, rolls and turns than smaller species. We also found that baleen whales exhibit positive allometry of maneuvering performance: relative to their body size, larger whales use higher accelerations, and perform faster pitch changes, rolls and certain types of turns than smaller species. However, not all maneuvers were impacted by body size in the same way, and we found that larger whales behaviorally adjust for their decreased agility by using turns that they can perform more effectively. The positive allometry of maneuvering performance suggests that large whales have compensated for their increased body size by evolving more effective control surfaces and by preferentially selecting maneuvers that play to their strengths.

Tags: agility, cetacean, maneuverability, scaling, swimming


Segre, P.S., W.T. Gough, E.A. Roulades, D.E. Cade, M.F. Czapanskiy, J. Fahlbusch, S.R. Kahane-Rapport, W.K. Oestrich, L. Bejder, K.C. Bierlich, J.A. Burrows, J. Calambokidis, E.M. Chenoweth, J. di Clemente, J.W. Durban, H. Fearnbach, F.E. Fish, A.S. Friedlaender, P. Hegelund, D.W. Johnston, D.P. Nowacek, M.G. Oudejans, G.S. Penry, J. Potvin, M. Simon, A. Stanworth, J.M. Straley, A. Szabo, S.K.A. Videsen, F. Visser, C.R. Weir, D.N. Wiley, and J.A. Goldbogen. 2022. Scaling of Maneuvering Performance in Baleen Whales: Larger Whales Outperform Expectations. Journal of Experimental Biology 225(5): jeb243224. doi: 10.1242/jeb.243224

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