skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on April 1, 2023

Title: Scaling of maneuvering performance in baleen whales: larger whales outperform expectations
Despite their enormous size, whales make their living as voracious predators. To catch their much smaller, more maneuverable prey, they have developed several unique locomotor strategies that require high energetic input, high mechanical power output and a surprising degree of agility. To better understand how body size affects maneuverability at the largest scale, we used bio-logging data, aerial photogrammetry and a high-throughput approach to quantify the maneuvering performance of seven species of free-swimming baleen whale. We found that as body size increases, absolute maneuvering performance decreases: larger whales use lower accelerations and perform slower pitch-changes, rolls and turns than smaller species. We also found that baleen whales exhibit positive allometry of maneuvering performance: relative to their body size, larger whales use higher accelerations, and perform faster pitch- changes, rolls and certain types of turns than smaller species. However, not all maneuvers were impacted by body size in the same way, and we found that larger whales behaviorally adjust for their decreased agility by using turns that they can perform more effectively. The positive allometry of maneuvering performance suggests that large whales have compensated for their increased body size by evolving more effective control surfaces and by preferentially selecting maneuvers that more » play to their strengths. « less
Authors:
Award ID(s):
1656676
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10325101
Journal Name:
Journal of experimental biology
Volume:
225
Issue:
5
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
jeb243224
ISSN:
0022-0949
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. High efficiency lunate-tail swimming with high-aspect-ratio lifting surfaces has evolved in many vertebrate lineages, from fish to cetaceans. Baleen whales (Mysticeti) are the largest swimming animals that exhibit this locomotor strategy, and present an ideal study system to examine how morphology and the kinematics of swimming scale to the largest body sizes. We used data from whale-borne inertial sensors coupled with morphometric measurements from aerial drones to calculate the hydrodynamic performance of oscillatory swimming in six baleen whale species ranging in body length from 5 to 25 m (fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus; Bryde’s whale, Balaenoptera edeni; sei whale, Balaenoptera borealis; Antarctic minke whale, Balaenoptera bonaerensis; humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae; and blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus). We found that mass-specific thrust increased with both swimming speed and body size. Froude efficiency, defined as the ratio of useful power output to the rate of energy input (Sloop, 1978), generally increased with swimming speed but decreased on average with increasing body size. This finding is contrary to previous results in smaller animals, where Froude efficiency increased with body size. Although our empirically parameterized estimates for swimming baleen whale drag were higher than those of a simple gliding model, oscillatory locomotion at this scale exhibitsmore »generally high Froude efficiency as in other adept swimmers. Our results quantify the fine- scale kinematics and estimate the hydrodynamics of routine and energetically expensive swimming modes at the largest scale.« less
  2. Fundamental scaling relationships influence the physiology of vital rates, which in turn shape the ecology and evolution of organisms. For diving mammals, benefits conferred by large body size include reduced transport costs and enhanced breath-holding capacity, thereby increasing overall foraging efficiency. Rorqual whales feed by engulfing a large mass of prey-laden water at high speed and filtering it through baleen plates. However, as engulfment capacity increases with body length (Engulfment Volume ∝ Body Length 3.57), the surface area of the baleen filter does not increase proportionally (Baleen Area ∝ Body Length1.82), and thus the filtration time of larger rorquals predictably increases as the baleen surface area must filter a disproportionally large amount of water. We predicted that filtration time should scale with body length to the power of 1.75 (Filter Time ∝ Body Length1.75). We tested this hypothesis on four rorqual species using multi-sensor tags with corresponding unoccupied aircraft systems (UAS) -based body length estimates. We found that filter time scales with body length to the power of 1.79 (95% CI: 1.61 - 1.97). This result highlights a scale-dependent trade-off between engulfment capacity and baleen area that creates a biomechanical constraint to foraging through increased filtration time. Consequently, larger whalesmore »must target high density prey patches commensurate to the gulp size to meet their increased energetic demands. If these optimal patches are absent, larger rorquals may experience reduced foraging efficiency compared to smaller whales if they do not match their engulfment capacity to the size of targeted prey aggregations.« less
  3. The largest animals are the rorquals, a group of whales which rapidly engulf large aggregations of small-bodied animals along with the water in which they are embedded, with the latter subsequently expulsed via filtration through baleen. Represented by species like the blue, fin, and humpback whales, rorquals can exist in a wide range of body lengths (8–30 m) and masses (4000–190,000 kg). When feeding on krill, kinematic data collected by whale-borne biologging sensors suggest that they first oscillate their flukes several times to accelerate towards their prey, followed by a coasting period with mouth agape as the prey-water mixture is engulfed in a process approximating a perfectly inelastic collision. These kinematic data, used along with momentum conservation and time-averages of a whale’s equation of motion, show the largest rorquals as generating significant body forces (10–40 kN) in order to set into forward motion enough engulfed water to at least double overall mass. Interestingly, a scaling analysis of these equations suggests significant reductions in the amount of body force generated per kilogram of body mass at the larger sizes. In other words, and in concert with the allometric growth of the buccal cavity, gigantism would involve smaller fractions of muscle massmore »to engulf greater volumes of water and prey, thereby imparting a greater efficiency to this unique feeding strategy.« less
  4. Six baleen whale species are found in the temperate western North Atlantic Ocean, with limited information existing on the distribution and movement patterns for most. There is mounting evidence of distributional shifts in many species, including marine mammals, likely because of climate-driven changes in ocean temperature and circulation. Previous acoustic studies examined the occurrence of minke (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and North Atlantic right whales (NARW; Eubalaena glacialis). This study assesses the acoustic presence of humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), sei (B. borealis), fin (B. physalus), and blue whales (B. musculus) over a decade, based on daily detections of their vocalizations. Data collected from 2004 to 2014 on 281 bottommounted recorders, totaling 35,033 days, were processed using automated detection software and screened for each species' presence. A published study on NARW acoustics revealed significant changes in occurrence patterns between the periods of 2004–2010 and 2011–2014; therefore, these same time periods were examined here. All four species were present from the Southeast United States to Greenland; humpback whales were also present in the Caribbean. All species occurred throughout all regions in the winter, suggesting that baleen whales are widely distributed during these months. Each of the species showed significant changes in acoustic occurrence after 2010.more »Similar to NARWs, sei whales had higher acoustic occurrence in mid-Atlantic regions after 2010. Fin, blue, and sei whales were more frequently detected in the northern latitudes of the study area after 2010. Despite this general northward shift, all four species were detected less on the Scotian Shelf area after 2010, matching documented shifts in prey availability in this region. A decade of acoustic observations have shown important distributional changes over the range of baleen whales, mirroring known climatic shifts and identifying new habitats that will require further protection from anthropogenic threats like fixed fishing gear, shipping, and noise pollution.« less
  5. Body condition is a crucial and indicative measure of an animal’s fitness, reflecting overall foraging success, habitat quality, and balance between energy intake and energetic investment toward growth, maintenance, and reproduction. Recently, drone-based photogrammetry has provided new opportunities to obtain body condition estimates of baleen whales in one, two or three dimensions (1D, 2D, and 3D, respectively) – a single width, a projected dorsal surface area, or a body volume measure, respectively. However, no study to date has yet compared variation among these methods and described how measurement uncertainty scales across these dimensions. This associated uncertainty may affect inference derived from these measurements, which can lead to misinterpretation of data, and lack of comparison across body condition measurements restricts comparison of results between studies. Here we develop a Bayesian statistical model using known-sized calibration objects to predict the length and width measurements of unknown-sized objects (e.g., a whale). We use the fitted model to predict and compare uncertainty associated with 1D, 2D, and 3D photogrammetry-based body condition measurements of blue, humpback, and Antarctic minke whales – three species of baleen whales with a range of body sizes. The model outputs a posterior predictive distribution of body condition measurements and allowsmore »for the construction of highest posterior density intervals to define measurement uncertainty. We find that uncertainty does not scale linearly across multi-dimensional measurements, with 2D and 3D uncertainty increasing by a factor of 1.45 and 1.76 compared to 1D, respectively. Each standardized body condition measurement is highly correlated with one another, yet 2D body area index (BAI) accounts for potential variation along the body for each species and was the most precise body condition metric. We hope this study will serve as a guide to help researchers select the most appropriate body condition measurement for their purposes and allow them to incorporate photogrammetric uncertainty associated with these measurements which, in turn, will facilitate comparison of results across studies.« less