Department of Biology

Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Professor Peter Teglberg Madsen

Shallow food for deep divers: Dynamic foraging behavior of male sperm whales in a high latitude habitat

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Department of Biological Sciences, Zoophysiology
Groups of female and immature sperm whales live at low latitudes and show a stereotypical diving and foraging behavior with dives lasting about 45 min to depths of between 400 and 1200 m. In comparison, physically mature male sperm whales migrate to high latitudes where little is known about their foraging behavior and ecology. Here we use acoustic recording tags to study the diving and acoustic behavior of male sperm whales foraging off northern Norway. Sixty-five hours of tag data provide detailed information about the movements and sound repertoire of four male sperm whales performing 83 dives lasting between 6 and 60 min. Dives ranged in depth between 14 and 1860 m, with a median depth of 175 m, and 92% of the surfacings lasted less than 15 min. The four whales clicked for an average 91% (SD = 10) of the dive duration, where the first usual click was produced at depths ranging between 4 and 218 m and the last usual click at depths ranging between 1 and 1114 m. Echolocation buzzes, which are used as an indication of prey capture attempts, were emitted at depths between 17 and 1860 m, during both the descent and ascent phase of deep dives. The foraging behavior varied markedly with depth, with the timing and duration of prey capture attempts during shallow dives suggesting that the whales target more sparsely distributed prey. In contrast, deep dives involve frequent prey capture attempts and seem to target more dense food layers. The evidence of exploitation of different food layers, including epipelagic prey, is consistent with the hypothesis that male sperm whales may migrate to high latitudes to access a productive, multi-layered foraging habitat.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Pages (from-to)119-131
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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