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Body density of humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) in feeding aggregations estimated from hydrodynamic gliding performance

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Abstract

Many baleen whales undertake annual fasting and feeding cycles, resulting in substantial changes in their body condition, an important factor affecting fitness. As a measure of lipid-store body condition, tissue density of a few deep diving marine mammals has been estimated using a hydrodynamic glide model of drag and buoyancy forces. Here, we applied the method to shallow-diving humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in North Atlantic and Antarctic feeding aggregations. High-resolution 3-axis acceleration, depth and speed data were collected from 24 whales. Measured values of acceleration during 5 s glides were fitted to a hydrodynamic glide model to estimate unknown parameters (tissue density, drag term and diving gas volume) in a Bayesian framework. Estimated species-average tissue density (1031.6 ± 2.1 kg m-3, ±95% credible interval) indicates that humpback whale tissue is typically negatively buoyant although there was a large inter-individual variation ranging from 1025.2 to 1043.1 kg m-3. The precision of the individual estimates was substantially finer than the variation across different individual whales, demonstrating a progressive decrease in tissue density throughout the feeding season and comparably high lipid-store in pregnant females. The drag term (CDAm-1) was estimated to be relatively high, indicating a large effect of lift-related induced drag for humpback whales. Our results show that tissue density of shallow diving baleen whales can be estimated using the hydrodynamic gliding model, although cross-validation with other techniques is an essential next step. This method for estimating body condition is likely to be broadly applicable across a range of aquatic animals and environments.
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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0200287
Number of pages23
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume13
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2018

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