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UBC researcher reveals humpback whales' dining habits -- and costs
Date:11/26/2008

As most American families sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, a University of British Columbia researcher is revealing how one of the largest animals on earth feasts on the smallest of prey and at what cost.

Some large marine mammals are known for their extraordinarily long dive times. Elephant seals, for example, can stay underwater for an hour at a time by lowering their heartbeat and storing large amounts of oxygen in their muscles.

"Weighing up to 40 tons, humpback whales and their close relatives have relatively short dive times given their large body size," says UBC zoology PhD candidate Jeremy Goldbogen, whose study is featured on the cover of the current issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology. "Our study suggests that this has to do with the enormous energy costs of its unique foraging behaviours."

Humpbacks belong to a group of whales called rorquals that includes the fin whale and the blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived. Characterized by an accordion-like blubber layer that goes from the snout to the naval, these whales take deep dives in search of dense patches of tiny zooplankton, such as krill or copepods.

While foraging, the whales literally drop their jaws during a high-speed dive called a lunge creating enormous drag akin to a race car driver opening a parachute. The drag forces the blubber to expand around a large volume of prey-laden water, which is then filtered out through a comb-like structure called baleen when the mouth closes.

Goldbogen and colleagues from the University of California, San Diego and Cascadia Research Collective, a non-profit organization in Washington, recorded the foraging behaviour of two humpback whales off the coast of California using a non-invasive, temporary digital tag that records depth, body angle and other acoustic data. After multiple tagging attempts, the team successfully recorded data over an eight-hour period; one whale performed 4
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Contact: Brian Lin
brian.lin@ubc.ca
604-822-2234
University of British Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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