(Nature Research, 2020-11-20)
Fortune, Sarah M. E.; Ferguson, Steven H.; Trites, Andrew W.; Hudson, Justine M.; Baumgartner, Mark F.
As zooplanktivorous predators, bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) must routinely locate patches of prey that are energy-rich enough to meet their metabolic needs. However, little is known about how the quality and quantity of prey might influence their feeding behaviours. We addressed this question using a new approach that included: (1) multi-scale biologging and unmanned aerial system observations of bowhead whales in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut (Canada), and (2) an optical plankton counter (OPC) and net collections to identify and enumerate copepod prey species through the water column. The OPC data revealed two prey layers comprised almost exclusively of lipid-rich calanoid copepods. The deep layer contained fewer, but larger, particles (10% greater overall biomass) than the shallow prey layer. Dive data indicated that the whales conducted long deep Square-shaped dives (80% of dives; averaging depth of 260.4 m) and short shallow Square-shaped dives (16%; averaging depth of 22.5 m) to feed. The whales tended to dive proportionally more to the greater biomass of zooplankton that occurred at depth. Combining behavioural recordings with prey sampling showed a more complex feeding ecology than previously understood, and provides a means to evaluate the energetic balance of individuals under current environmental conditions.