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Silent stalkers of dark ocean waters
Date:12/3/2013

ut visual cues as the only means of prey detection.

"We now suspect that mammal-eating killer whales are primarily eavesdropping on sounds generated by their prey to find food," he said. Deecke recounted one unfortunate seal whose demise was captured by the sensors in an acoustic story of life and death.

"As soon as we put one of the tags on, it started to record seal roars, which are part of the display that male harbor seals use to attract females. Over the next half-hour the roars got louder and louder, then there are a sequence of three quite loud roars that suggest the seal is within a few hundred meters of the killer whale. Twenty-seven seconds later there are the sounds of a predation event, and then no more roars."

Deecke notes that such a story is compelling but does not provide direct evidence that killer whales are tuning in to the sounds of their prey. Going forward, he hopes to use playback experiments to test killer whales' responses to recorded seal roars and porpoise echolocation clicks.

Finding out how much killer whales rely on acoustic cues to hunt could help scientists better understand the potential ecological impact of shipping noise and other activities that generate underwater sound. "We need to understand how the foraging process works so that we, as humans, can know how our behavior might impact the animals negatively and what we can do to minimize our impact," Deecke said.


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Contact: Jennifer Lauren Lee
jlee@aip.org
301-209-3099
American Institute of Physics
Source:Eurekalert

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