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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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Short-finned pilot whale tagged with a suction-cup attached Digital Acoustic Tag near the Cape Hatteras shelf break.

Photo: Danielle Waples

Shearer J, Jensen FH, Quick NJ, Friedlaender A, Southall B, Nowacek DP, Bowers M, Foley H, Swaim Z, Waples D, Read A

Short-finned pilot whales exhibit behavioral plasticity in foraging strategies mediated by their environment

Short-finned pilot whales occur throughout tropical and sub-tropical oceans, but most previous studies of their foraging ecology have occurred near oceanic islands. Shearer and colleagues deployed Digital Acoustic Tags on 43 whales along the Cape Hatteras shelf break to investigate how environment shapes their foraging behavior. By parsing the echoic scene generated by the whales’ own echolocation clicks, they show that whales often forage near the sea floor. In fact, benthic dives resulted in more prey capture attempts than mid-water dives. Some whales used both strategies, revealing their behavioral plasticity. The ability of these predators to adapt their foraging strategies to local conditions contributes to their ecological success and may allow them to adjust to changing conditions in the Anthropocene Ocean.


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