Kinematics and Energetics of Foraging Behavior in Rice’s Whales of the Gulf of Mexico
The paper discusses feeding behavior of two Rice's whales with suction cup tags attached.
Rorqual foraging behavior varies with species, prey type and foraging conditions, and can be a determining factor for their fitness. Little is known about the foraging ecology of Rice’s whales (Balaenoptera ricei), an endangered species with a population of fewer than 100 individuals. Suction cup tags were attached to two Rice’s whales to collect information on their diving kinematics and foraging behavior. The tagged whales primarily exhibited lunge-feeding near the sea bottom and to a lesser extent in the water-column and at the sea surface. During 6–10 min foraging dives, the whales typically circled their prey before executing one or two feeding lunges. Longer duration dives and dives with more feeding-lunges were followed by an increase in their breathing rate. The median lunge rate of one lunge per dive of both animals was much lower than expected based on comparative research on other lunge-feeding baleen whales, and may be associated with foraging on fish instead of krill or may be an indication of different foraging conditions. Both animals spent extended periods of the night near the sea surface, increasing the risk for ship strike. Furthermore, their circling before lunging may increase the risk for entanglement in bottom-longline fishing gear. Overall, these data show that Rice’s whale foraging behavior differs from other lunge feeding rorqual species and may be a significant factor in shaping our understanding of their foraging ecology. Efforts to mitigate threats to Rice’s whales will benefit from improved understanding of patterns in their habitat use and fine-scale ecology.
Kok, A. C. M., M. J. Hildebrand, M. MacArdle, A. Martinez, L. P. Garrison, M. S. Soldevilla, and J. A. Hildebrand. 2023. Kinematics and energetics of foraging behavior in Rice’s whales of theGulf of Mexico. Scientific Reports. 13:8996 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-35049-z