CIE Spotlight: Structure and Dynamics of Minke Whale Surfacing Patterns in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada

Fredrik C.

Fredrik C.

Title: Structure and Dynamics of Minke Whale Surfacing Patterns in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada

Authors: Christiansen, Fredrik; Lynas, Ned M.; Lusseau, David; Tscherter, Ursula

Source: PLOS ONE, 10 (5), MAY 13 2015

Brief summary of the paper: Animal behavioral patterns can help us understand physiological and ecological constraints on animals and its influence on fitness. The surfacing patterns of aquatic air-breathing mammals constitute a behavioral pattern that has evolved as a trade-off between the need to replenish oxygen stores at the surface and the need to conduct other activities underwater.

This study aims to better understand the surfacing pattern of a marine top predator, the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), by investigating how their dive duration and surfacing pattern changes across their activity range. Activities were classified into resting, traveling, surface feeding and foraging at depth. For each activity, we classified dives into short and long dives and then estimated the temporal dependence between dive types.

We found that minke whales modified their surfacing pattern in an activity-specific manner, both by changing the expression of their dives (i.e. density distribution) and the temporal dependence (transition probability) between dive types. As the depth of the prey layer increased between activities, the surfacing pattern of foraging whales became increasingly structured, going from a pattern dominated by long dives, when feeding at the surface, to a pattern where isolated long dives were followed by an increasing number of breaths (i.e. short dives), when the whale was foraging at depth.

A similar shift in surfacing pattern occurred when prey handling time (inferred from surface corralling maneuvers) increased for surface feeding whales.

The surfacing pattern also differed between feeding and non-feeding whales. Resting whales did not structure their surfacing pattern, while traveling whales did, possibly as a way to minimize cost of transport.

Our results also suggest that minke whales might balance their oxygen level over multiple, rather than single, dive cycles.