A new study suggests that blue whales do not indiscriminately eat everything they happen to find in the ocean. They carefully select only the prey that can help them maintain an optimal body weight and boost their energy gain.
Scientists explained that the animals’ foraging strategies help them maintain their body weight, maximize energy gain, and save life-giving oxygen during their dives for food. The findings challenge previous belief that the marine grazers focus on quantity and eat whatever type of krill they come across in the ocean in huge amounts. The study shows that they focus on quality as well.
Study authors hope that their findings could help conservationists in their efforts to preserve and recover the majestic animals. The study, which was led by a group of researchers from Oregon State and Stanford universities and NOAA Fisheries, was recently published in Science Advances.
Elliott Hazen of NOAA Fisheries and co-author of the study, said that the team was interested in finding how the large animals supported their huge body size. Researchers found that one of the strategies used by blue whales was optimizing their feeding behavior.
Blue whales can weigh as much as two dozen adult elephants and reach the length of a basketball court. But they are very wary about their energetic needs since they live on an ‘energetic knife-edge,’ as scientists put it.
Feeding itself deprives them of a lot of energy because they need to suck in as much water as their body weight and expel the water and retain only the tiny krill in it. But finding enough krill to restore their energy is a difficult task, so they have to maximize what goes in and what goes out in order to survive.
Study authors monitored 14 tagged animals and compared their foraging strategies with those of 41 other whales. They also mapped their environment for krill and measured the tiny animals’ density.
The measurements revealed that when food was scarce, blue whales saved their energy and oxygen for other dives. But when there was plenty of food, the large animals began ‘grazing’ consuming more energy in the process but making sure that they had enough food to restore it.
“Blue whales don’t live in a world of excess and the decisions these animals make are critical to their survival,”
concluded Ari Friedlaender, of the Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center who was also involved in the research.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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