Although gigantic body size and obligate filter feeding mechanisms have evolved in multiple vertebrate lineages (mammals and fishes), intermittent ram (lunge) filter feeding is unique to a specific family of baleen whales: rorquals. Lunge feeding is a high cost, high benefit feeding mechanism that requires the integration of unsteady locomotion (i.e., accelerations and maneuvers); the impact of scale on the biomechanics and energetics of this foraging mode continues to be the subject of intense study. The goal of our investigation was to use a combination of multi-sensor tags paired with UAS footage to determine the impact of morphometrics such as body size on kinematic lunging parameters such as fluking timing, maximum lunging speed, and deceleration during the engulfment period for a range of species from minke to blue whales. Our results show that, in the case of krill-feeding lunges and regardless of size, animals exhibit a skewed gradient between powered and fully unpowered engulfment, with fluking generally ending at the point of both the maximum lunging speed and mouth opening. In all cases, the small amounts of propulsive thrust generated by the tail were unable to overcome the high drag forces experienced during engulfment. Assuming this thrust to be minimal, we predicted the minimum speed of lunging across scale. To minimize the energetic cost of lunge feeding, hydrodynamic theory predicts slower lunge feeding speeds regardless of body size, with a lower boundary set by the ability of the prey to avoid capture. We used empirical data to test this theory and instead found that maximum foraging speeds remain constant and high (∼4 m s–1) across body size, even as higher speeds result in lower foraging efficiency. Regardless, we found an increasing relationship between body size and this foraging efficiency, estimated as the ratio of energetic gain from prey to energetic cost. This trend held across timescales ranging from a single lunge to a single day and suggests that larger whales are capturing more prey—and more energy—at a lower cost.
Integrative Organismal Biology
Oxford University Press
Gough, W. T., Cade, D. E., Czapanskiy, M. F., Potvin, J., Fish, F. E., Kahane-Rapport, S. R., Savoca, M. S., Bierlich, K. C., Johnston, D. W., Friedlaender, A. S., Szabo, A., Bejder, L., & Goldbogen, J. A. (2022). Fast and Furious: Energetic Tradeoffs and Scaling of High-Speed Foraging in Rorqual Whales. Integrative Organismal Biology, 4(1), 1-23. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/iob/obac038