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Cheetahs of the deep sea: deep foraging sprints in short-finned pilot whales off Tenerife (Canary Islands)

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle



Natacha Aguilar Soto, Mark P. Johnson, Peter T. Madsen, Francisca Diaz, Ivan Dominguez, Alberto Brito, Peter Tyack

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1. Empirical testing of optimal foraging models for breath-hold divers has been difficult. Here we report data from sound and movement recording DTags placed on 23 short-finned pilot whales off Tenerife to study the foraging strategies used to catch deep-water prey.

2. Day and night foraging dives had a maximum depth and duration of 1018 m and 21 min. Vocal behaviour during dives was consistent with biosonar-based foraging, with long series of echolocation clicks interspersed with buzzes. Similar buzzes have been associated with prey capture attempts in other echolocating species.

3. Foraging dives seemed to adapt to circadian rhythms. Deep dives during the day were deeper, but contained fewer buzzes (median 1), than night-time deep dives (median 5 buzzes).

4. In most deep (540-1019 m) daytime dives with buzzes, a downward directed sprint reaching up to 9 m s(-1) occurred just prior to a buzz and coincided with the deepest point in the dive, suggestive of a chase after escaping prey.

5. A large percentage (10-36%) of the drag-related locomotion cost of these dives (15 min long) is spent in sprinting (19-79 s). This energetic foraging tactic focused on a single or few prey items has not been observed previously in deep-diving mammals but resembles the high-risk/high-gain strategy of some terrestrial hunters such as cheetahs.

6. Deep sprints contrast with the expectation that deep-diving mammals will swim at moderate speeds optimized to reduce oxygen consumption and maximize foraging time at depth. Pilot whales may have developed this tactic to target a deep-water niche formed by large/calorific/fast moving prey such as giant squid.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)936-947
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date28 Apr 2008
StatePublished - Sep 2008

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