Monday, 18 March 2013

Whales filter feed with a tangled hair-like net

By Ella Davies, Reporter, BBC Nature

Filter-feeding whales' unique baleen structures tangle to trap food, experiments have revealed.

US scientist Professor Alexander J Werth investigated how bowhead and humpback whales capture prey using the plates in their throats.

He found that, in flowing water, the fringed edges of the baleen tangle together to form a food-trapping net.

The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

"Bowhead whales are among the largest and most endangered of all whales," explained Prof Werth from Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia, US, who undertook the research.

"They feed primarily upon tiny copepods less than 1mm long, which they filter from the ocean with slow skim feeding."

To understand more about this feeding behaviour, Prof Werth investigated the unique baleen material responsible for filtering the whales' enormous gulps of water.

Baleen plates are made of keratin: the same protein that makes hair and fingernails. The plates consist of two smooth layers with a third, fibrous layer sandwiched in the middle.

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