MEPS 523:233-241 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11141

Visual and behavioral evidence indicates active hunting by sperm whales

Kagari Aoki1,6,*, Masao Amano2, Tsunemi Kubodera3, Kyoichi Mori4, Ryosuke Okamoto5, Katsufumi Sato1

1Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, 5-1-5 Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba 277-8564, Japan
2Graduate School of Fisheries Science and Environmental Studies, Nagasaki University, 1-14 Bunkyo, Nagasaki 852-8521, Japan
3Collection Center, National Museum of Nature and Science, 4-1-1 Amakubo, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0005, Japan
4Department of Animal Sciences, Teikyo University of Science, 2525 Yatsusawa, Uenohara, Yamanashi 409-0193, Japan
5Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, Higashimachi, Chichijima, Ogasawara, Tokyo 100-2101, Japan
6Present address: School of Biology, University of St Andrews, Bute Building, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9TS, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: It is hypothesized that sperm whales employ active pursuit strategies for hunting prey, mainly deep-sea squid at great depths, but no visual evidence has been obtained to confirm this. We recorded the hunting behavior of sperm whales using animal-borne cameras and accelerometers simultaneously deployed on 17 whales, and obtained 42.8 h of diving data, including 17715 images. A statistical comparison indicated no clear effect of light (with or without flashing white lights from cameras) on diving behavior of tagged whales. Although 98.5% of the still images were of empty water and uninformative, 5 classes of images with visible material were identified: (1) suspended material, possibly squid ink (n = 17), (2) unidentified particles (n = 4), (3) possible animal body parts (n = 2), (4) other sperm whales (n = 221), and (5) the seafloor (n = 8). All image classes were recorded at deeper depths (mean ± SD = 785 ± 140 m), except Class 4 images, which were recorded only at depths <339 m, suggesting that tagged whales swam alone while foraging at great depths. Simultaneous use of speed and image sensors revealed that Class 1 images were associated with bursts of speed up to approximately twice (3.3 ± 1.0 m s-1, max. 6 m s-1) the mean swim speed (1.8 ± 0.4 m s-1). These images, likely derived during chasing prey, support the hypothesis that sperm whales actively hunt to capture prey.


KEY WORDS: Animal-borne camera · Cetacean · Data logger · Diving behavior · Hunting · Swim speed · Physeter macrocephalus


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Cite this article as: Aoki K, Amano M, Kubodera T, Mori K, Okamoto R, Sato K (2015) Visual and behavioral evidence indicates active hunting by sperm whales. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 523:233-241. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11141

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