Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Foraging dives of sperm whales in the north-western Mediterranean Sea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Oceanic odontocetes rely on echolocation to forage on pelagic or benthic prey, but their feeding ecology is difficult to study. We studied sperm whale foraging dives during summer in the north-western Mediterranean, using visual and passive acoustic observations. Clicking and creaking activities were recorded during dives of focal whales, at distances <3000 m using a towed hydrophone and DAT recorder. A total of 52 sperm whales were recorded over at least one full dive cycle. Data were obtained for 156 complete dives in total, including sequences of up to nine consecutive dives. Various dive and environmental variables were entered in multiple linear regression and principal components analysis, as well as estimated mass of whales. Creak rate was 0.80 creak/minute on average, with moderate variance. Bigger whales tended to dive longer at greater depths (as suggested by ascent durations), and emitted more creaks during a dive: 20.2 creaks/dive on average for individuals <24 tons, compared to 25.6 creaks/dive for animals >24 tons of estimated mass. For individual whales, creak rates did not vary significantly with size (range 0.78–0.80 creak/minute), but decreased with time of the day, and increased for shorter foraging phases. For different dives, higher creak rates were also observed earlier in the day, and linked to shorter foraging phases and surface durations. Although the exact significance of creak emissions (i.e. foraging attempt or prey capture) is not precisely determined, creak rates may be reliably used to quantify sperm whale foraging when single animal dives can be followed acoustically.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1799-1808
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Issue numberSpecial Issue 08
Early online date31 Aug 2012
StatePublished - Dec 2012

    Research areas

  • Sperm whale, Foraging, Mediterranean, Acoustics

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Habitat use of culturally distinct Galápagos sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus clans

    Eguiguren, A., Pirotta, E., Cantor, M., Rendell, L. & Whitehead, H. 17 Jan 2019 In : Marine Ecology Progress Series. 609, p. 257-270

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Kinship and association do not explain vocal repertoire variation among individual sperm whales or social units

    Konrad, C. M., Frasier, T. R., Rendell, L., Whitehead, H. & Gero, S. Nov 2018 In : Animal Behaviour. 145, p. 131-140 10 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Tail walking in a bottlenose dolphin community: the rise and fall of an arbitrary cultural 'fad'

    Bossley, M., Steiner, A., Brakes, P., Shrimpton, J., Foster, C. & Rendell, L. Sep 2018 In : Biology Letters. 14, 9, 5 p., 20180314

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Social learning strategies: bridge-building between fields

    Kendal, R., Boogert, N., Rendell, L., Laland, K. N., Webster, M. & Jones, P. Jul 2018 In : Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 22, 7, p. 651-665 15 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

  5. Presence of an audience and consistent interindividual differences affect archerfish shooting behaviour

    Jones, N. A. R., Webster, M., Templeton, C. N., Schuster, S. & Rendell, L. Jul 2018 In : Animal Behaviour. 141, p. 95-103 9 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (Journal)

    Arso Civil, M. (Reviewer)
    5 May 2017 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPeer review of manuscripts

Related by journal

  1. Organizing, supporting and linking the world marine biodiversity research community

    Costello, M. J., Archambault, P., Chavanich, S., Miloslavich, P., Paterson, D. M., Phang, S-M., Sousa Pinto, I., Pierrot-Bults, A., Song, S., Soto, E. H., Stenseth, N. C., Molodtsova, T. N. & Thorndyke, M. 10 Feb 2015 In : Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

    Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial

  2. Killer whale (Orcinus orca) occurrence and predation in the Bahamas

    Dunn, C. A. & Claridge, D. 2013 In : Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 5 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

ID: 36522967