PLoS One. 2023 Mar 6;18(3):e0282651. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0282651. eCollection 2023.
Subsurface foraging is an important proportion of the activity budget of rorqual whales, yet information on their behaviour underwater remains challenging to obtain. Rorquals are assumed to feed throughout the water column and to select prey as a function of depth, availability and density, but there remain limitations in the precise identification of targeted prey. Current data on rorqual foraging in western Canadian waters have thus been limited to observations of prey species amenable to surface feeding, such as euphausiids and Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), with no information on deeper alternative prey sources. We measured the foraging behaviour of a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Juan de Fuca Strait, British Columbia, using three complimentary methods: whale-borne tag data, acoustic prey mapping, and fecal sub-sampling. Acoustically detected prey layers were near the seafloor and consistent with dense schools of walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) distributed above more diffuse aggregations of pollock. Analysis of a fecal sample from the tagged whale confirmed that it had been feeding on pollock. Integrating the dive profile with the prey data revealed that the whale’s foraging effort followed the general pattern of areal prey density, wherein the whale had a higher lunge-feeding rate at the highest prey abundance and stopped feeding when prey became limited. Our findings of a humpback whale feeding on seasonally energy-dense fish like walleye pollock, which are potentially abundant in British Columbia, suggests that pollock may be an important prey source for this rapidly growing whale population. This result is informative when assessing regional fishing activities for semi-pelagic species as well as the whales’ vulnerability to fishing gear entanglements and feeding disturbances during a narrow window of prey acquisition.
PMID:36877706 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0282651