MEPS 349:289-301 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps07066

Big gulps require high drag for fin whale lunge feeding

Jeremy A. Goldbogen1,*, Nicholas D. Pyenson2, Robert E. Shadwick1

1Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
2Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

ABSTRACT: Fin whales Balaenoptera physalus exhibit one of the most extreme feeding methods among aquatic vertebrates. Fin whales, and other rorquals (Balaenopteridae), lunge with their mouth fully agape, thereby generating dynamic pressure to stretch their mouth around a large volume of prey-laden water, which is then filtered by racks of baleen. Despite their large body size, fin whales appear to be limited to short dive durations, likely because of the energetic cost associated with large accelerations of the body during several lunges at depth. Here, we incorporate kinematic data from high-resolution digital tags and morphological data of the engulfment apparatus in a simple mechanical model to estimate the drag acting on a lunge-feeding fin whale. This model also allowed us to quantify the amount of water and prey obtained in a single lunge. Our analysis suggests that the reconfiguration and expansion of the buccal cavity enables an adult fin whale to engulf approximately 60 to 82 m3 of water, a volume greater than its entire body. This large engulfment capacity, however, comes at a high cost because the drag, work against drag, and drag coefficient dramatically increase over the course of a lunge. As a result, kinetic energy is rapidly dissipated from the body, and each subsequent lunge requires acceleration from rest. Despite this high cost, living balaenopterids are not only among the largest animals on earth, but are relatively speciose and exhibit diverse prey preferences. Given this ecological diversity, we frame our results in an evolutionary context, and address the implications of our results for the origin of lunge feeding.

KEY WORDS: Lunge feeding · Fin whale · Balaenoptera physalus · Drag · Foraging · Locomotion

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Cite this article as: Goldbogen JA, Pyenson ND, Shadwick RE (2007) Big gulps require high drag for fin whale lunge feeding. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 349:289-301

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