MEPS 264:123-135 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps264123

Summertime foraging ecology of North Atlantic right whales

Mark F. Baumgartner1,3,*, Bruce R. Mate2

1104 Ocean Administration Building, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA.
2Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University, Newport, Oregon 97365, USA
3Present address: Biology Department, MS #33, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

ABSTRACT: North Atlantic right whales were instrumented with suction-cup mounted, time-depth recorders (TDR) during the summers of 2000 and 2001 to examine their diving and foraging behavior. Simultaneous observations of temperature, salinity and the vertical distribution of their principal prey, Calanus finmarchicus stage 5 copepodites (C5), were obtained along each whale¹s track with a conductivity-temperature-depth instrument (CTD) and an optical plankton counter (OPC). Right whale feeding dives were characterized by rapid descent from the surface to a particular depth between 80 and 175 m, remarkable fidelity to that depth for 5 to 14 min and then rapid ascent back to the surface. The average depth of dive was strongly and positively correlated with both the average depth of peak C. finmarchicus C5 abundance and the average depth of the bottom mixed layer¹s upper surface. Significantly longer surface intervals were observed for reproductively active females and their calves when compared to other individuals, indicating that this critical segment of the population may be at increased risk of ship strikes owing to their diving behavior. Ingestion rates calculated from TDR and OPC data exceeded estimated daily metabolic requirements for most of the tagged right whales; however, short deployment durations and uncertainty in metabolic rates make it impossible to judge whether individual right whales were obtaining sufficient energy to meet the metabolic costs of reproduction. Improvements in attachment durations and the development of novel methods to estimate the metabolic rates of large whales in situ are required to determine whether right whale reproduction is limited by insufficient food resources.

KEY WORDS: Right whale · Eubalaena glacialis · Calanus finmarchicus · Diving behavior · Energetics · Aggregation

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