Ferguson Steven H.
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ArticleBowhead whales use two foraging strategies in response to fine-scale differences in zooplankton vertical distribution(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.
ArticleMulti-year patterns in testosterone, cortisol and corticosterone in baleen from adult males of three whale species(Oxford University Press, 2018-09-21) Hunt, Kathleen E. ; Lysiak, Nadine S. J. ; Matthews, Cory J. D. ; Lowe, Carley ; Ajo, Alejandro Fernández ; Dillon, Danielle ; Willing, Cornelia ; Heide-Jørgensen, Mads Peter ; Ferguson, Steven H. ; Moore, Michael J. ; Buck, C. LorenMale baleen whales have long been suspected to have annual cycles in testosterone, but due to difficulty in collecting endocrine samples, little direct evidence exists to confirm this hypothesis. Potential influences of stress or adrenal stress hormones (cortisol, corticosterone) on male reproduction have also been difficult to study. Baleen has recently been shown to accumulate steroid hormones during growth, such that a single baleen plate contains a continuous, multi-year retrospective record of the whale’s endocrine history. As a preliminary investigation into potential testosterone cyclicity in male whales and influences of stress, we determined patterns in immunoreactive testosterone, two glucocorticoids (cortisol and corticosterone), and stable-isotope (SI) ratios, across the full length of baleen plates from a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), all adult males. Baleen was subsampled at 2 cm (bowhead, right) or 1 cm (blue) intervals and hormones were extracted from baleen powder with methanol, followed by quantification of all three hormones using enzyme immunoassays validated for baleen extract of these species. Baleen of all three males contained regularly spaced peaks in testosterone content, with number and spacing of testosterone peaks corresponding well to SI data and to species-specific estimates of annual baleen growth rate. Cortisol and corticosterone exhibited some peaks that co-occurred with testosterone peaks, while other glucocorticoid peaks occurred independent of testosterone peaks. The right whale had unusually high glucocorticoids during a period with a known entanglement in fishing gear and a possible disease episode; in the subsequent year, testosterone was unusually low. Further study of baleen testosterone patterns in male whales could help clarify conservation- and management-related questions such as age of sexual maturity, location and season of breeding, and the potential effect of anthropogenic and natural stressors on male testosterone cycles.
ArticleEvidence of molting and the function of “rock-nosing” behavior in bowhead whales in the eastern Canadian Arctic(Public Library of Science, 2017-11-22) Fortune, Sarah M. E. ; Koski, William R. ; Higdon, Jeff W. ; Trites, Andrew W. ; Baumgartner, Mark F. ; Ferguson, Steven H.Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) have a nearly circumpolar distribution, and occasionally occupy warmer shallow coastal areas during summertime that may facilitate molting. However, relatively little is known about the occurrence of molting and associated behaviors in bowhead whales. We opportunistically observed whales in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut, Canada with skin irregularities consistent with molting during August 2014, and collected a skin sample from a biopsied whale that revealed loose epidermis and sloughing. During August 2016, we flew a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) over whales to take video and still images to: 1) determine unique individuals; 2) estimate the proportion of the body of unique individuals that exhibited sloughing skin; 3) determine the presence or absence of superficial lines representative of rock-rubbing behavior; and 4) measure body lengths to infer age-class. The still images revealed that all individuals (n = 81 whales) were sloughing skin, and that nearly 40% of them had mottled skin over more than two-thirds of their bodies. The video images captured bowhead whales rubbing on large rocks in shallow, coastal areas—likely to facilitate molting. Molting and rock rubbing appears to be pervasive during late summer for whales in the eastern Canadian Arctic.