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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 541:231-244 (2015)  -  DOI:

Effect of prey type on the fine-scale feeding behaviour of migrating east Australian humpback whales

Kylie Owen*,1, Joseph D. Warren2, Michael J. Noad1, David Donnelly3, Anne W. Goldizen4, Rebecca A. Dunlop1

1Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland, Gatton, QLD 4343, Australia
2Acoustic Laboratory for Ecological Studies, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Southampton, NY 11968, USA
3Australian Orca Database, 8 Campbell Parade, Box Hill South, VIC 3128, Australia
4Behavioural Ecology Research Group, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: For terrestrial migrants, feeding at migratory stopover sites is important, with prey quality linked to future survival and reproductive success. In contrast, the importance of this behaviour to marine species is unknown. The humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae is a marine migrant that is thought to fast while migrating; however, recent studies suggest that feeding may occur during this time. The aims of this study were to determine how the prey type available on a migratory route off Eden, New South Wales, Australia, influenced whether whales fed or not, and to study the fine-scale behaviour of the whales. Digital acoustic recording tags (DTAGs) and focal follows were used to record whale behaviour. A larger proportion of groups were determined to be feeding when krill was observed at the surface. Whales encountering fish spent a small percentage (28%) of time feeding, behaving similarly to non-feeding whales on migration, with small groups, a higher proportion of males sampled, and relatively straight tracks. In contrast, whales encountering surface swarms of krill spent significantly more time feeding (92%) and behaved similarly to whales on feeding grounds, with larger groups, more females sampled, and tracks with high turning angles. Therefore, changes in the available prey type influenced the amount of time spent feeding and the social dynamics of groups. Given the link between the amount of feeding completed on migration and the future survival and reproductive success of individuals in terrestrial species, the impact of such fluctuations on marine species such as the humpback whale deserves more attention.

KEY WORDS: Area-restricted search · Humpback whales · Krill · Fish · Feeding behaviour · Migration · Prey type · Stopover site

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Cite this article as: Owen K, Warren JD, Noad MJ, Donnelly D, Goldizen AW, Dunlop RA (2015) Effect of prey type on the fine-scale feeding behaviour of migrating east Australian humpback whales. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 541:231-244.

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