Quantcast
Animals

Scientists Connect Camera to Minke Whale in World-First Study

For the first time ever, scientists in Antarctica have attached a camera to a minke—one of the most poorly understood of all the whale species.

And in an incredible bonus for researchers, the camera (which adheres with suction cups) slid down the side of the animal—but stayed attached—providing remarkable video of the way it feeds.


The initial camera position would not have recorded the whale's throat expanding.

Minkes grow to about 8 to 9 meters (approximately 26 to 30 feet) and are the second smallest baleen whale. They filter primarily krill or small fish out of the water using specialized feeding plates, known as baleen, in a method known as lunge feeding.

When their much larger cousins, like blue or fin whales, lunge feed they take in huge volumes of water that can equal their entire body mass and take up to a minute to process each gulp.

"What's amazing to me is how fast the minke swims and how quickly it can feed," said Dr. Ari Friedlaender, an associate professor from the University of California Santa Cruz and lead scientist on the research.

"The video showed the tagged minke moving at up to 24 kilometers per hour [approximately 15 miles per hour] as it accelerates to feed. We could see individual feeding lunges and the expansion of the throat pleats as they filled with prey-laden water. What was remarkable was the frequency of the lunges and how quickly they could process water and feed again, repeating the task about every 10 seconds on a feeding dive. He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding."

Friedlaender said the minke's relatively small size, which helps it maneuver through the sea ice, and its ability to feed quickly has helped the species carve out a niche in Antarctica.

"Larger whales try to avoid ice because they can't maneuver as well so they feed in open water. They also need dense patches of krill or fish to offset the energy required to accelerate, lunge and process large gulps of water.

"But minkes can feed among the ice because of their size. Interestingly, their small size also decreases the energy it takes to feed, and thus they can take advantage of less dense patches of prey," he said.

He described the event of deploying the first camera tag on a minke as "one of the most memorable moments of my scientific life" as other researchers and a crowd of tourists aboard the OneOcean Expeditions vessel, Akademik Ioffe erupted into cheers.

Chris Johnson, senior manager of WWF's Antarctic Program, who joined Friedlaender on the trip as part of the research team, said the experience was made even more unforgettable by the personality of the tagged minke.

"This animal just kept hanging around the boat, rolling over on its side, just as fascinated by us as we were by him. He then really put on a show breaching repeatedly. It really looked like he was having fun," Mr Johnson said.

Sea ice is an important part of a minke's habitat, a place where they feed and hide from killer whales.

But because of climate change, sea ice in the Antarctic Peninsula now advances two months later and retreats more than one month earlier.

"Over the last 50 years, the number of days when sea ice covers the Antarctic Peninsula has decreased by about 80. For minkes and other ice-dependent species, that's 80 fewer days with suitable habitat," Friedlaender said.

Scientists are also worried that critical feeding areas for baleen whales—and other krill predators such as penguins, seals and seabirds–overlap with the krill fishery.

This fishery is primarily concentrated along the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Arc, an area rich with Antarctic krill.

WWF is concerned that industry wants to increase the total krill catch.

Chris Johnson said WWF would continue to advocate for more marine protected areas in Antarctica as they are vital to conserve biodiversity and are based on sound science.

He said at present the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) considers data on penguins, seals and seabirds but not whales when considering new protected area proposals and fisheries management.

"WWF is working with Dr. Friedlaender and his team to put his vital new information about whales before decision makers.

"These tags are helping us understand not only how baleen whales forage but also the locations of their favorite feeding spots. This will allow us to work with CCAMLR and the industry to keep fishing away from these critical feeding areas," he said.

"We hope that when CCAMLR next meets it will pass new proposals for important new marine protected areas for the Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea and a proposal for East Antarctica that was rejected last year," he said.

WWF-Australia has provided funding for three "whale cams" to help scientists better understand critical feeding areas in the Southern Ocean and the impact of shrinking ice caused by warming sea temperatures.

Friedlaender's work is supported by OneOcean Expeditions and is in collaboration with scientists from Stanford University and the California Ocean Alliance. It is conducted under permits granted from the National Marine Fisheries Service and Antarctic Conservation Act, including institutional animal care and use protocols.

The research is being conducted in collaboration with scientists at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart and under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership (IWC-SORP). The aim of the partnership is to implement and promote non-lethal whale research techniques to maximize conservation outcomes for Southern Ocean whales.

Watch raw video footage below:

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Politics
L: Michael Coghlan / Flickr R: Coloured chest X-ray of a male patient showing evidence of a mesothelioma lung cancer, which is usually associated with exposure to asbestos. Zephyr / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Report: 140 House Members Vote Against Chemical Safeguards Every Time

The Environmental Working Group Action Fund, the political arm of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), released a first-ever report that scores how each member of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on chemical policy and safety.

The scorecard shows that 140 House members voted against chemical safeguards every time, while 149 members consistently voted for chemical safety protections.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
grobery / CC BY SA 2.0 (Flickr)

What’s for Dinner? A Preview of the People, Process and Politics Updating Federal Dietary Guidelines

By Sarah Reinhardt

Months behind schedule, two federal departments have officially kicked off the process for writing the 2020-2025 iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Updated and reissued every five years, these guidelines are the nation's most comprehensive and authoritative set of nutrition recommendations. And although the process is meant to be science-based and support population health—and has historically done so, with some notable exceptions—there are plenty of reasons to believe that the Trump administration is preparing to pitch a few curveballs.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Vladimirovic / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The Many Hazards of Toxic Algae Outbreaks

By Sarah Graddy and Robert Coleman

This summer, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is tracking outbreaks of potentially toxic algae across the U.S. We have been startled to find that these outbreaks are erupting everywhere: from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
London skyline with level 32 "moderate" air pollution in Sept. 2017. David Holt / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Air Pollution Particles Discovered in Placentas

Researchers have found the first evidence that soot from polluted air can travel from a pregnant woman's lungs and reach the placenta via the bloodstream, according to a press release from Queen Mary University of London.

The study examined the placentas of five women living in London after they gave birth. The women were all non-smokers, had uncomplicated pregnancies and delivered healthy babies.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
An asbestos cleanup crew before the demolition of Moorpark High School in CA in 1996. Carlos Chavez / LA Times / Getty Images

EPA Is Failing to Protect School Children From Asbestos, Internal Watchdog Agency Says

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn't doing enough to protect the 50 million school children and seven million teachers and staff who spend time in U.S. private and public schools from asbestos exposure.

That's the conclusion of a report released Monday by the EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG), the agency's internal watchdog.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Pexels

Lawsuit Launched to Push Trump Administration to Protect Giraffes From Extinction

Conservation groups Tuesday filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to respond to a legal petition to protect giraffes under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was required to respond to the April 2017 petition within 90 days, but nearly 17 months have passed with no finding.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Pexels

Under the USDA’s Definition, 90% of Iowa’s Farms Are 'Family Farms'

By Dan Nosowitz

When you think of "family farms," a nice bucolic image probably comes to mind: something small, maybe lower-budget or lower-tech, run by a family.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Pexels

Coca-Cola Eyes Cannabis-Infused Drinks Market

Coca-Cola is "closely watching" the cannabis drinks market, the world's largest beverage company said Monday in an online statement.

Coke announced its interest after a report from Canada's BNN Bloomberg said the soda giant was in "serious talks" with Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis, a medical marijuana producer and distributor, to develop drinks infused with cannabidiol, or CBD.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!