Minke whales lunge feeding under sea ice at high rates

Photo by Ari Friedlaender_0429

Featured this week on the cover of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Friedlaender et al. present the first data ever collected using high-resolution, multi-sensor tags on foraging minke whales. These data were obtained off the western Antarctic Peninsula in Wilhelmina Bay. Our analyses showed that tagged minke whales foraged under and around pack ice, performing lunges at at very high rates compared to larger whales that feed using the same intermittent engulfment feeding strategy. We attributed these results to the allometric scaling of engulfment capacity relative to body size in different lunge feeding whales, which range in size from 5-7 m long minke whales to 28 m blue whales. Blue whales take fewer, larger, and less frequent gulps of prey-laden water, whereas minke whales execute many small lunges at high rates. We suggest that the unique combination of body size and feeding mode allows minke whales to efficiently exploit krill patches around sea-ice, a niche that is not easily accessible to larger whales. These results have major implications for understanding the ecology and evolution of baleen whales as important consumers of abundant oceanic resources. See a video of the tagging action.