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  1. The considerable power needed for large whales to leap out of the water may represent the single most expensive burst maneuver found in nature. However, the mechanics and energetic costs associated with the breaching behaviors of large whales remain poorly understood. In this study we deployed whale-borne tags to measure the kinematics of breaching to test the hypothesis that these spectacular aerial displays are metabolically expensive. We found that breaching whales use variable underwater trajectories, and that high-emergence breaches are faster and require more energy than predatory lunges. The most expensive breaches approach the upper limits of vertebrate muscle performance,more »and the energetic cost of breaching is high enough that repeated breaching events may serve as honest signaling of body condition. Furthermore, the confluence of muscle contractile properties, hydrodynamics, and the high speeds required likely impose an upper limit to the body size and effectiveness of breaching whales.« less
  2. The largest animals are marine filter feeders, but the underlying mechanism of their large size remains unexplained. We measured feeding performance and prey quality to demonstrate how whale gigantism is driven by the interplay of prey abundance and harvesting mechanisms that increase prey capture rates and energy intake. The foraging efficiency of toothed whales that feed on single prey is constrained by the abundance of large prey, whereas filter-feeding baleen whales seasonally exploit vast swarms of small prey at high efficiencies. Given temporally and spatially aggregated prey, filter feeding provides an evolutionary pathway to extremes in body size that aremore »not available to lineages that must feed on one prey at a time. Maximum size in filter feeders is likely constrained by prey availability across space and time.« less