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Feeding behavior of the humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, in the western North Atlantic

  • Associated Scientists at Woods Hole

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Observations on the feeding behavior of the humpback whale, Megapteranovaeangliae, were made from aerial and surface platforms fTom 1977 to 1980 in the continental shelf waters of the north­ eastern United States. The resulting catalog of behaviors includes two principal categories: Swim­ ming/lunging behaviors and bubbling behaviors. A behavior from a given category may be used independently or in association with others, and by individual or groups of humpbacks. The first category includes surface lunging, circular swimming/thrashing, and the "inside loop" behavior. In the second category, a wide variety of feeding-associated bubbling behaviors are described, some for the first time. The structures formed by underwater exhalations are of two major types: 1) bubble cloud-a single, relatively large (4-7m diameter), dome-shaped cloud formed of small, uniformly sized bubbles; and 2) bubble column-a smaller (1-1.5 m diameter) structure composed of larger, randomly sized bubbles, used in series or multiples. Both basic structures are employed in a variety of ways. Many of these behaviors are believed to be utilized to maintain naturally occurring concentrations of prey, which have been identified as the American sand lance, Ammodytes americanus, and occasionally as herring, Clupea harengus. This paper reports on the feeding behavior of the humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, in the continental shelf waters of the northeastern United States. We describe several feeding be­ haviors reported for the first time, as well as a number of behaviors known from other areas but not previously reported for these waters. Our col­ lective observations provide the beginning of a more complete catalog than has previously been available.
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... Likely prey items of baleen whales were chosen based on past research examining Atlantic baleen whale feeding behaviors (Watkins & Schevill 1976, Hain et al. 1982, Hain et al. 1995, Overholtz & Nicolas 1979, Ware et al. 2014, Watkins & Schevill 1979, Weinrich et al. 1992) and stomach contents analysis (Rebolledo et al. 2016, Flinn et al. 2002 Each fish was given a unique number and the length of each fish measured. The frozen fish was cut into small chunks using a stainless-steel blade, placed in a sterilized glass flask, and then freeze dried. ...
... Payne et al. (1990) noted that as sandlance density increased, so did the number of humpback sightings, suggesting an association and possible shift in diet to the more abundant prey species. Regions where sandlance are present continue to have large numbers of humpback sightings (Hain et al. 1982, Hain et al. 1995, Ware et al. 2014, although in the northeastern Gulf pg. 57 ...
Over the past two decades, the Gulf of Maine (GoM) has experienced an annual increase in sea surface temperature. Impacts to the marine ecosystem due to this thermal stress are not yet fully understood. One hypothesis suggests that the temperature increase has reduced productivity, thus affecting prey distribution. Tracking changes in prey choice is challenging; however, analytical methods such as stable isotope analysis (SIA) allow researchers to examine trophic dynamics in consumers over various time scales and assess ecological impact of possible oceanographic regime shifts. This thesis reports the results for the first two years of a five-year SIA study examining current trophic dynamics of GoM rorquals, including humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and fin (Balaenotera physalus) whales, using samples collected in situ via a crossbow-delivered biopsy dart. The results were compared to those from a previous GoM isotopic study completed prior to the warming period to assess any changes. A multivariate analysis of the current data suggests fin whales (n = 2) have a lower trophic level signature in comparison to humpbacks (n = 35), specifically due to differences in δ15N values. Recent δ13C values for humpbacks have shifted from historic values, becoming more negative in 2018 and becoming less negative in 2019, while δ15N values have remained statistically similar both years. Using isotopic fractionation constants, humpback isotopic values map well to contemporary samples of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), whose δ13C signals were more negative in 2018 than in 2019. This correlation supports the hypothesis that humpbacks continue to feed on herring, and that the variation in δ13C is a product of the change in the prey’s isotopic signature.
... The use of exhaled bubbles by foraging cetaceans to corral, encircle, or startle prey may constitute tool use (Mann & Patterson, 2013). Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are well known to form closed rings of bubbles to encircle and concentrate prey for more efficient feeding-both alone and in cooperative groups (Jurasz & Jurasz, 1970;Hain et al., 1982;Friedlaender et al., 2011). Similar behaviour has been documented in Bryde's whales (Balaenoptera brydei; Kot et al., 2014), but the extent to which bubbles are used for prey manipulation is less understood for other rorqual species, including blue (Balaenoptera musculus), fin (Balaenoptera physalus), and minke (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) whales (Kot et al., 2014). ...
... Manoeuvrability in rorquals is scaled to body size (Segre et al., 2022), which may account for the different strategies among rorquals (Friedlaender et al., 2011). Humpback whales typically return to the bubble net to engulf prey (Hain et al., 1982;Friedlaender et al., 2011). Fin whales, however, were always observed lunge-feeding ahead of (and heading away from) bubble-streams with a rapid approach and longer streams of bubbles. ...
... The earliest eyewitness report of bubble-net feeding was recorded in 1905 off the coast of Norway by Ingebrigtsen (1929). Since then, the behaviour has been well-documented in other regions of the world, from the Atlantic Ocean, including North America's eastern seaboard around the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and other regions of the Gulf of Maine (Askin et al., 2017;Mastick et al., 2022), in the northeastern Pacific in Alaska and Canada (Jurasz & Jurasz, 1979;Hain et al., 1982), in the Baja Californian breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico in the eastern Pacific (Gendron & Urban, 1993), in the southeastern Pacific in the Magellan Strait (Acevedo et al., 2011) to the Southern Ocean around the South Shetland Islands (Herr et al., 2016), off the east coast of Australia in the southwestern Pacific (Pirotta et al., 2021), and in the Arabian Sea in the northern Indian Ocean (Baldwin et al., 2011). To date, however, this behaviour has only briefly been reported once within UK waters in the Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland (Zonfrillo, 1996), although only a vague account of observed surface bubbles was provided in this case, with no description of the pathway or mechanics of the feeding whale. ...
... For example, Wiley et al. (2011) described individual humpbacks from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Gulf of Maine, northwestern Atlantic, performing similar upwards spiral manoeuvres (in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions) as well as more complex double-loop strategies and coordinated methods involving multiple animals. In our present observations, the whale released a continuous stream of surfacing bubbles, creating a discrete annular bubble curtain as opposed to the multiple bubble bursts also described for the species (e.g., Jurasz & Jurasz, 1979;Hain et al., 1982). Wiley et al. (2011) proposed a 20-m depth limit for bubble-net feeding whales due to the physics of bubble dispersal to which humpback whales have behaviourally adapted. ...
... Blue, fin, and humpback whales show multiple orientations of lunge feeding-vertical, lateral and inverted [23][24][25] . Humpback whales often herd their prey before lunging 24,[26][27][28] , and for some fish prey, they abandon lunging in favor of bottom side roll feeding 29 . Bryde's whales, a sister species of Rice's whales, show a variety of foraging tactics that differ with prey type and population. ...
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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.
... Instead, the tubercles led to higher angles of attack prior to stall and higher maximum lift coefficients. Of note, the team noted that the humpback whale is the only baleen whale that relies on manoeuvrability while capturing its prey, hinting at a possible role of tubercles in dynamic situations (Hain et al., 1982;Miklosovic et al., 2004). With this biological insight, engineering studies have since confirmed that tubercles act to delay or control dynamic stall (Hrynuk and Bohl, 2020). ...
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Powered flight was once a capability limited only to animals, but by identifying useful attributes of animal flight and building on these with technological advances, engineers have pushed the frontiers of flight beyond our predecessors' wildest imaginations. Yet, there remain many key characteristics of biological flight that elude current aircraft design, motivating a careful re-analysis of what we have learned from animals already, and how this has been revealed experimentally, as well as a specific focus on identifying what remains unknown. Here, we review the literature to identify key contributions that began in biology and have since been translated into aeronautical devices or capabilities. We identify central areas for future research and highlight the importance of maintaining an open line of two-way communication between biologists and engineers. Such interdisciplinary, bio-informed analyses continue to push forward the frontiers of aeronautics and experimental biology alike.
... But the whale watching boat took us closer to where the whales were feeding and that is when I noticed how small I truly was. When humpback whales feed, they swim in circles around groups of krill while releasing air, thus creating what many call a bubble net (Hain et al., 1982). Witnessing natural behaviors from wild animals was a game changer for me because all of my previous experience with animals I loved came from highly managed zoos and aquariums. ...
Gaining a better understanding of human behavior change is vital to encouraging individuals to adopt an environmentally sustainable lifestyle and to the long-term goal of preserving nature. To explore how life experiences lead to the adoption of environmentally sustainable behaviors, this author turned to autoethnography. Through this reflective method, the author examines their development of environmental identity and their experiences with nature, as they relate to major concepts within the field of conservation psychology, such as ecological literacy, Theory of Planned Behavior, and connection to nature. Leading concepts concerning environmental identity in the conservation psychology literature suggest a very specific pathway for developing environmental identity, and thus pro-environmental behaviors, including experience in nature from a young age, the presence of an environmental mentor, and access to environmental literature. However, the author reveals that there may be other pathways to development of environmental identity, which include virtual environmental mentors (e.g., nature TV show hosts), environmental media (e.g., magazines, documentaries, and internet sources), and other methods of driving emotional connection to nature (e.g., sense of place). Alongside the author, the reader will have the opportunity to consider their environmental experiences and factors influencing their environmental identity, in relation to these major concepts within conservation psychology.
... Contrary to odontocetes, which often feed in large groups, most mysticetes forage singly and independently (Heithaus & Dill, 2008). Nevertheless, cooperative feeding, for example, by using bubble-net feeding (Hain et al., 1982, Wiley et al., 2011Ware et al., 2014), is relatively well described for humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). ...
Marine mammals have developed various feeding strategies, including cooperative foraging in groups. Cooperative feeding is more common in social marine mammals like odontocetes that include smaller oceanic dolphins and killer whales (Orcinus orca). Cooperative feeding allows these species to hunt more efficiently by working together to gain access to food. Contrary to odontocetes, which often feed in large groups, most mysticetes forage singly and independently. Nevertheless, cooperative feeding, for example, by using bubble-net feeding, is relatively well described for humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Mysticetes exhibit one of the most energetically efficient foraging strategies by feeding on aggregations of zooplankton and small fish, and many strategies and tactics are used to locate and capture prey. Humpback whales, like other baleen whales (Balaenopteridae), use intermittent ram feeding or lunge feeding, techniques in which an individual animal engulfs a large volume of prey laden water. In the present study, we report the observation of a large group of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis; SRWs) cooperatively foraging in Bahía Nueva (Puerto Madryn), Argentina. By “cooperating,” we refer to SRWs being able to work together to concentrate their prey and obtain more food with less expenditure of time or energy than they could invest alone. This feeding behavior that we propose to be termed cooperative circle feeding behavior is, to our knowledge, the first record of this activity for this species.
... Основные объекты питания -рыбы и макропланктон [Атлас..., 1980]. Среди рыб отмечали сельдь, мойву, скумбрию, песчанку [Hain et al., 1982]. В норвежских и прилегающих водах, в том числе в Баренцевом море, летом обитает около 1450 горбатых китов [Øien, 2009]. ...
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Comparative analysis of cetacean and fish species distribution in the Barents Sea is conducted on the data of joint Russian-Norwegian ecosystem surveys in August-October of 2005–2014. The number of observed minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris), and harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), as well as the acoustic-measured distribution density of fishes, as capelin (Mallotus villosus), polar cod (Boreogadus saida), herring (Clupea sp.), cod (Gadus morhua), haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), saithe (Pollachius virens), blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassoumes), redfish (Sebastes sp.), norway pout (Trisopterus esmarkii), and fish fingerlings are summarized by the squares 50 x 50 km and maps of their distribution are drawn. A degree of overlapping between distributions of cetacean and fish species is estimated for each pair of species, as ratio of number of the squares where the species were presented together to total number of the squares where the species were found. Associations between cetaceans and their potential prey are determined by the methods of principal components and correlation analysis applied to the log-transformed data. Distribution of the widely distributed cetaceans, as minke whale and white-beaked dolphin, overlapped largely (up to 42 %) with many of studied fish species, therefore their possible predation on these species was significant. On the contrary, locally distributed cetaceans, such as harbor porpoise, had possibly lesser impact on fish because of low overlapping with their distribution (< 11 %). By the results of correlation analysis, capelin and polar cod were the priority potential prey for baleen whales (p < 0.01 and p = 0.02, respectively), whereas cod, haddock, blue whiting, and redfish – for toothed whales (p = 0.02, 0.01, 0.02, and < 0.01, respectively), in particular for white-beaked dolphin.
... Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are well known for their use of bubbles, especially in a feeding context where lone whales or cooperative groups use a variety of bubble-based tactics to net, trap, herd, and concentrate different prey species (e.g., Jurasz & Jurasz, 1979;Hain et al., 1982;D'Vincent et al.,1985;Sharpe & Dill, 1997;Wiley et al., 2011). Vigorous use of bubbles is also a feature of humpback whale behavior on breeding grounds. ...
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Meristic characteristics of sand lance taken from Stellwagen Bank indicated the species to be the American sand lance,Ammodytes americanus.Bottom trawl data, ichthyoplankton surveys, and diver and submersible observations demonstrated a significant increase in relative abundance of sand lance since about 1975 on Stellwagen Bank; this trend was typical of the Northwest Atlantic from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to the Gulf of Maine. School shapes were constant in appearance, vertically compres­ sed, tightly compacted, and bluntly linear from a dorsal and ventral view. School strengths varied from about 100 to tens ofthousands ofindividuals with the nearest-neighbor distance ranging from '4 to 1'h body lengths. The swimmingmotion issinusoidal in form and eellike in appearance. Swimmingspeeds varied from 15 to over 120 cm/s. Copepods were the most important food source, constituting 41% ofthe total weight offood consumed; sand lance feed in school fonnation between midwater and the surface. Sand lance bury themselves totally or partially in clean sandy substrates when not schooling.
Distinct behavioral differences were noted from aerial observations of four species of baleen whales (Eubalaena glacialis, right whale; Balaenoptera borealis, sei whale; Megaptera novaeangliae, humpback whale; Balaenoptera physalus, finback whale) feeding together on 30 April and 1 May 1975. The right and sei whales fed together on patches of plankton. Right whales fed steadily with mouths open in the densest areas, while the sei whale followed a faster but more erratic path through the patches, alternately opening and slowly closing its mouth with slight throat distension at each closing. Humpback and finback whales fed together on dense schools of fish associated with the patches of plankton. The humpback fed by rushing, generally from below the schools of fish, while finback feeding was by more horizontal passes sometimes characterized by sharp turns and rolls within the fish schools and often with enormous throat distension.
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) were observed and photographed during winter, 1974 near the West Indies and summer, 1976 near Newfoundland. Prior investigations on whale locomotion based on anatomical inference or surface observations did not describe any specific underwater use of the humpbacks' uniquely long flippers. Our results show that humpbacks achieve a high degree of maneuverability underwater through the active coordinated use of their flippers. Three-dimensional active movements including protraction-retraction, abduction-adduction, and lateral-medial rotations, were observed. The whales could move themselves in all directions independent from fluke-generated forward motion by thrusting with their resilient flippers. At higher swimming speeds (>4 knots) the flippers were used to effect sharply executed ascending or descending banked turns. Analysis of filmed sequences from three adult-calf encounters indicated a reduction of the amplitude and frequency of tailbeats by the adults; calves made tailbeats 4 to 7 times more frequently than adults when maintaining the same speed. The tail and flukes are forcefully moved other than vertically during maneuvering. The significance of these findings is discussed in relation to our knowledge of larger whales.
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