New tag technology developed to study the biomechanics of whale swimming and feeding

Stanford researchers reveal details about the unique feeding habits of whales

Published this week in Current Biology, Ph.D. candidate Dave Cade and colleagues present the first simultaneous measures of skull and body kinematics in lunge feeding rorqual whales. Lunge feeding is an intermittent engulfment and filtration strategy that allows the largest animals of all time to subsist on some of the smallest, such a krill and fish. Ten years since the first kinematic description of this dynamic feeding mechanism, we have developed new technology that consists of self contained, suction-cup attached tags that measure 3D movement and dual video at high resolution. For the first time, we can now measure the fine-scale kinematics of engulfment relative to the speed of the body. These data are critical to our understanding of the energetic consequences of this unique feeding mechanism. We found a previously unrecognized level of kinematic diversity that were both species and prey dependent. These data suggest that rorqual species can fine tune and modulate the kinematics of feeding in order to optimize foraging efficiency across a wide range of scales and ecological seascapes. This new technology has changed the way we think about how whales feed and how they interact with their environment.