Sunday, 29 September 2013

Research Reveals Bottom Feeding Techniques of Tagged Humpback Whales in Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary

Sep. 26, 2013 — New NOAA-led research on tagged humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary reveals a variety of previously unknown feeding techniques along the seafloor. Rather than a single bottom feeding behavior, the whales show three distinct feeding approaches: simple side-rolls, side-roll inversions, and repetitive scooping.

A recently published paper, in the journal Marine Mammal Science, indicates that bottom side-roll techniques are common in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Great South Channel study area, a deep-water passage between Nantucket, Mass. and Georges Bank-further southeast.

The study further states that the observed feeding behavior also leads to vulnerability to entanglement in bottom set fishing gear, an issue which is a major mortality factor for the species. This finding reaffirms a NOAA Fisheries regulation that mandates the use of sinking line between fishing traps used in the lobster fishery as a way of reducing entanglements.

The new findings follow earlier NOAA-led studies detailing so-called "bubble net" feeding behaviors near and at the surface. Bubble net feeding is a behavior in which humpback whales corral and contain fish into a small area by trapping them in nets of air bubbles so they can more efficiently scoop them up in their large filter-feeding mouths.The behaviors are used by individual animals and as part of coordinated feeding behaviors involving two or more animals.

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