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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 494:281-289 (2013)  -  DOI:

Extreme diel variation in the feeding behavior of humpback whales along the western Antarctic Peninsula during autumn

A. S. Friedlaender1,*, R. B. Tyson1, A. K. Stimpert2, A. J. Read1, D. P. Nowacek1,3

1Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Duke University Marine Laboratory, 135 Duke Marine Lab Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
2Naval Postgraduate School, Department of Oceanography, 833 Dyer Road, Monterey, California 93943, USA
3Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA

ABSTRACT: Most humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae populations partition their time between prey-rich feeding and prey-deficient breeding/calving regions. How these whales feed and optimize the consumption of prey resources prior to long-distance migrations and fasting is largely unknown. We deployed multi-sensor tags on humpback whales around the western Antarctic Peninsula to describe their daily activity patterns late in the feeding season to test the hypothesis that feeding behavior varies over the diel cycle so as to maximize energy intake and limit energy expenditure. Dives were assigned to a behavioral state (feeding, resting, traveling, exploring) to determine hourly rates and to build an ethogram of activity patterns. Our results show a distinct diel pattern of whales feeding exclusively at night. Feeding depth was deeper around sunrise/sunset and shallower (~50 m) at night, consistent with diel vertical prey movement. Shallow feeding dives typically contained a single feeding lunge, a strategy known to increase feeding efficiency and maximize intake rates by maintaining proximity to the surface and reducing the energetic costs of deep diving. The lack of feeding during daytime may indicate prey being too deep for efficient foraging. Our results add information where currently there is a paucity of data describing how baleen whales optimize feeding behavior, specifically in relation to prey distribution and movement, to fuel their extraordinary energetic requirements necessary for growth, migration, and reproduction. Understanding behavioral patterns and predator/prey dynamics in rapidly changing marine environments, like the Antarctic Peninsula, is critical for understanding how these changes will affect ecosystem structure and function.

KEY WORDS: Humpback whale · Foraging ecology · Tagging · Antarctica

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Cite this article as: Friedlaender AS, Tyson RB, Stimpert AK, Read AJ, Nowacek DP (2013) Extreme diel variation in the feeding behavior of humpback whales along the western Antarctic Peninsula during autumn. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 494:281-289.

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