Drones help researchers from Oregon State University study blue whales’ foraging strategy at the ocean’s surface in New Zealand.
Blue whales’ foraging strategy studied with help of drones
Michelle Klampe from the Oregon State University writes for the News Times that:
“People think about whales having to dive deep to get to the densest prey patches, but if they can find their prey in shallow waters, it’s actually more energetically profitable to feed near the surface,” Leigh Torres, an assistant professor and director of the Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna Laboratory at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, said. “In this population of whales in New Zealand, they foraged more in areas where their prey was dense and shallow. Their dives were relatively short, and they were feeding more at the surface, which requires less energy.”
The findings were published today in the journal PeerJ. Co-authors of the study include Dawn Barlow, a doctoral student in Torres’ lab; Todd Chandler, who captured drone footage used in the study; and Jonathan Burnett of OSU’s Aerial Information Systems Laboratory.
Using a drone, the researchers captured video of a blue whale surface feeding on a patch of krill. The footage illustrates a blue whale’s feeding process, including decision-making about whether or not to eat patches of krill near the ocean’s surface. The video, which was first shared publicly shortly after the research trip, went viral online. It also gave researchers another source of data to describe surface feeding behavior.
“This footage highlights the value of using drones for study and observation of whales,” Torres said. “Drone footage could be a good complement to data collected from tags for studying surface behaviors of whales.”
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