Humpback whales’ unusual flipper flapping


This video says about itself:

4 May 2016

This is the incredible moment a humpback whale feeds just feet away from docked boats showing off his giant mouth.

Fisherman Cy Williams watched as the behemoth majestically beached the surface of the water at Knudson Cove Marina, Alaska, USA.

As Cy tried to follow the whale’s path under the stationary vessels – including his own – on Monday May 2, he spotted bubbles heading toward the surface.

Suddenly the gaping jaws of the mammoth mammal shot into the air, taking a massive gulp on the way back.

From Stanford University in the USA:

Unexpected flipper flapping in humpback whales observed

July 10, 2017

Summary: Humpback whales flap their foreflippers like penguins or sea lions, researchers have discovered. This unexpected observation helps explain whale maneuvering and could improve designs inspired by their movement.

When Jeremy Goldbogen, an assistant professor of biology at Stanford University, affixed recording devices to humpback whales, it was with the hope of learning more about how the animals move in their natural environment — deep underwater and far from human’s ability to observe.

However, in the process of reviewing footage of the whales feeding in groups, he and his team noticed something unexpected. In rare instances, the cameras caught whales flapping their foreflippers like penguins or sea lions, but completely unlike anything seen before in whales.

“Whales power their swimming by using their muscular tails,” said Paolo Segre, a postdoctoral researcher. “However, in this case we have documented the first example of a whale flapping its flippers to move forward, using a motion similar to a bird flapping its wings.”

This novel movement, detailed July 10 in Current Biology, helps the researchers understand more about the abilities and anatomy of these mysterious animals and could also inform bio-inspired design.

Unique flippers

The foreflippers of humpbacks are bumpy and slender compared to the much shorter, smoother front flippers of other whales. They are so distinctive, in fact, that the scientific name for humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, means “big-winged New Englander.”

Because scientists have thought foreflippers were mainly involved in steering, it makes sense that the unusual flipper shape could explain the humpback’s famously skillful maneuvering. Video tagging technology, like that developed by the Goldbogen Lab, is relatively new, so scientists have only recently had the opportunity to test and expand on this hypothesis.

“In the past, researchers have looked at the structure of the whale flipper from dead animals,” said Goldbogen, who carries out his research at Hopkins Marine Station and is senior author of the paper. “But for the first time we can see how this structure actually is used in a living whale — in its natural environment.”

From their footage, the group estimated the hydrodynamic forces produced by the flapping and found the whales were generating a significant amount of thrust. They also found this behavior was extremely rare. In hundreds of hours of video, some of which included groups of about 200 whales, they only saw the foreflipper flapping twice, which may be why they’re the first to report it.

“It is likely very energetically expensive and only used for short bursts of acceleration,” said Segre, who is lead author of the paper. “It is probable that humpback whales are the only species that can do this because of the length and extensive range of motion of their flippers.”

The humpback whale is the most studied of all the whales, said Goldbogen, but, by revealing a new purpose for its namesake appendage, this work demonstrates we have much more to learn about this species.

Bio-inspiration

In addition to telling us more about these mysterious giants of the sea, research on whale biomechanics could be used by scientists in other fields. Even our best aquatic technology has yet to catch up to whales’ ability to move their enormous bodies quickly and precisely or their extremely efficient long-distance migrations.

“By understanding how the body flexes, and how the flippers and flukes are used to maneuver, we will have a better understanding of the mechanisms used by the largest animals to attain high-performance locomotion,” Goldbogen said. “Therefore, our research has implications for the biomimetic design applications from enhanced performance of animals to mechanized submersibles.”

The group’s next step is to create a 3-D movement and 360-degree panoramic video version of their tag that would capture a whale’s entire body along with the environment around it.

Whales’ flipper flapping is preferable to politicians’ flip-flopping.

Humpback whales feast when hatcheries release salmon, by Susan Milius. 7:05pm, July 11, 2017.

Baleen whale evolution, new research


This video from the USA says about itself:

Ancient whale reveals origins of filter feeders

29 June 2017

A 30 million-year-old species of whale first found in South Carolina had a bizarre feeding system. Researchers have discovered that the whale used its front teeth to snag larger prey, such as small fish, while its back molars were used to filter through water for tiny crustaceans. The team say that the whale could offer new insight into how the filter-feeding system used by blue and humpback whales first evolved. In this reconstruction, the two main whales in the centre are the recently discovered ancient whale Coronodon havensteini, while the lower two in the background are Echovenator sandersi. The birds are Pelagornis sandersi – avians with a wingspan near 6.5 metres (21 ft).

From ScienceDaily:

Ancient South Carolina whale yields secrets to filter feeding’s origins

June 29, 2017

The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived. And yet they feed almost exclusively on tiny crustaceans known as krill. The secret is in the baleen, a complex filter-feeding system that allows the enormous whales to strain huge volumes of saltwater, leaving only krill and other small organisms behind. Now, researchers who have described an extinct relative of baleen whales in Current Biology on June 29 offer new insight into how baleen first evolved.

The findings shed light on a long-standing debate about whether the first baleen whales were toothless suction feeders or toothed whales that used their teeth like a sieve to filter prey out of water, the researchers say. The teeth of the newly discovered species of mysticete, called Coronodon havensteini, lend support to the latter view.

“We know from the fossil record that the ancestors of baleen whales had teeth,” says Jonathan Geisler of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine. “However, the transition from teeth to baleen is controversial. Our study indicates that early toothed whales used spaces between their large complex teeth for filtering and that baleen gradually replaced teeth over millions of years.”

The new whale species was found in the early 2000s by a scuba diver in South Carolina’s Wando River. He was looking for shark teeth and found the fossilized whale instead. The whale, which lived some 30 million years ago, was later recognized as a representative of a new transitional species.

“The skull of this species indicates that it split off very early in mysticete whale evolution, and our analyses confirm that evolutionary position,” Geisler says.

Geisler and his colleagues realized that meant the whale could offer important clues about the teeth to baleen transition. The whale under study also had other interesting features. It was larger than other toothed mysticetes, with a skull nearly one meter long. Its large molars in comparison to other whales further suggested an unusual feeding behavior.

Closer examination of the shape and wear on the whale’s teeth led the researchers to conclude that the whale used its front teeth to snag prey. But the whale’s large, back molars were used in filter feeding, by expelling water through open slots between the closed teeth.

“The wear on the molars of this specimen indicates they were not used for shearing food or for biting off chunks of prey,” he says. “It took us quite some time to come to the realization that these large teeth were framing narrow slots for filter feeding.”

As confirmation, the researchers found wear on the hidden cusps bordering those slots between the teeth.

The findings offer another example of a broader evolutionary pattern in which body parts (in this case teeth) that evolved for one function are later co-opted for another function. The researchers say they are now examining closely related species from the Charleston, SC, area in search of additional evidence.

US Trump administration endangers whales, turtles


This video from the USA says about itself:

Trump Administration Makes It Easier To Kill Endangered Whales

13 June 2017

This week in ‘Evil Things the Trump Administration is Doing,’ they’ve now made it easier to kill endangered whales. John Iadarola, Hannah Cranston, and Kim Horcher, the hosts of The Young Turks, tell you why.

“SAN FRANCISCO — The Trump administration on Monday threw out a new rule intended to limit the numbers of endangered whales and sea turtles getting caught in fishing nets off the West Coast, saying existing protections were already working.

Economically, the new rule would have had “a much more substantial impact on the fleet than we originally realized,” said Michael Milstein, a spokesman with the federal fisheries service, which killed the rule.

The rule would have applied to fewer than 20 fishing vessels that use mile-long fishing nets to catch swordfish off California and Oregon. The change would have shut down the drift gillnet fishing for swordfish for up to two seasons if too many of nine groups of whales, sea turtles or dolphins were getting caught in the nets.”

Read more here.

Baleen whales’ ancestry, new study


This video from Australia says about itself:

How suction feeding preceded filtering in baleen whale evolution

29 November 2016

A remarkable 25-million-year-old whale fossil called ‘Alfred’ has provided long-sought evidence of how whales evolved from having teeth to hair-like baleen – triggering their rise as the largest creatures on Earth.

From ScienceDaily:

Baleen whales’ ancestors were toothy suction feeders

May 11, 2017

Summary: Modern whales’ ancestors probably hunted and chased down prey, but somehow, those fish-eating hunters evolved into filter-feeding leviathans. An analysis of a 36.4-million-year-old whale fossil suggests that before baleen whales lost their teeth, they were suction feeders that most likely dove down and sucked prey into their mouths. The study also shows that whales most likely lost the hind limbs that stuck out from their bodies more recently than previously estimated.

Modern whales’ ancestors probably hunted and chased down prey, but somehow, those fish-eating hunters evolved into filter-feeding leviathans. An analysis of a 36.4-million-year-old whale fossil suggests that before baleen whales lost their teeth, they were suction feeders that most likely dove down and sucked prey into their large mouths. The study published on May 11 in Current Biology also shows that whales most likely lost the hind limbs that stuck out from their bodies more recently than previously estimated.

The specimen, which researchers unearthed in the Pisco Basin in southern Peru, is the oldest known member of the mysticete group, which includes the blue whale, the humpback whale, and the right whale. At 3.75-4 meters long, this late Eocene animal was smaller than any of its living relatives, but the most important difference was in the skull. Modern mysticetes have keratin fibers — called baleen — in place of teeth that allow them to trap and feed on tiny marine animals such as shrimp. However, the newly described whale has teeth, so the paleontologists dubbed it Mystacodon, meaning “toothed mysticete.”

“This find by our Peruvian colleague Mario Urbina fills a major gap in the history of the group, and it provides clues about the ecology of early mysticetes,” says paleontologist and study co-author Olivier Lambert of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. “For example, this early mysticete retains teeth, and from what we observed of its skull, we think that it displays an early specialization for suction feeding and maybe for bottom feeding.”

Mystacodon’s teeth exhibit a pattern of wear that differs from more archaic whales, the basilosaurids. Many basilosaurids were probably active hunters, similar to modern orcas, with mouths that were suited for biting and attacking, but Mystacodon has a mouth more suited for sucking in smaller animals, leading the researchers to conclude that Mystacodon most likely represents an intermediate step between raptorial and filter feeding and between the ancient basilosaurids and modern mysticetes.

“For a long time, Creationists took the evolution of whales as a favorite target to say that, ‘Well, you say that whales come from a terrestrial ancestor, but you can’t prove it. You can’t show the intermediary steps in this evolution,'” says Lambert. “And that was true, maybe thirty years ago. But now, with more teams working on the subject, we have a far more convincing scenario.”

Mystacodon bolsters that argument by displaying features of both basilosaurids and mysticetes. “It perfectly matches what we would have expected as an intermediary step between ancestral basilosaurids and more derived mysticetes,”says Lambert. “This nicely demonstrates the predictive power of the theory of evolution.”

Lambert and his colleagues think that Mystacodon may have started suction feeding in response to ecological changes. In illustrated reconstructions, Mystacodon is depicted diving down to the sea floor in a shallow cove, but based on this initial analysis, the researchers aren’t sure to which extent Mystacodon was adapted to bottom feeding. “We will look inside the bone to see if we can find some changes that may be correlated with this specialized behavior,” says Lambert. “Among marine mammals, when a slow-swimming animal is living close to the sea floor, generally the bone is much more compact, and this is something we want to test with these early mysticetes.”

The fossil’s pelvis offered another surprise: Mystacodon had fully articulated, tiny vestigial hind limbs that would have stuck out away from the whale’s body. Previously, paleontologists had thought that whales lost the hip articulation during the basilosaurid phase of their evolution, before baleen whales and modern toothed whales diverged. Though Mystacodon’s hind limbs were already tiny and well down the path toward being vestigial and useless, their articulation with the pelvis suggests that mysticetes and modern toothed whales may have lost this feature independently.

“For a long time, our comprehension of whale evolutionary history was hampered by the fact that most paleontologists were searching for bones relatively close to home, in Europe and North America,” Lambert says. “However, key steps in whales’ evolution happened in areas now occupied by India, Pakistan, Peru, and even Antarctica.” Lambert and his colleagues plan to return to the excavation site in Peru to see if they can find more whale fossils from different epochs.

See also here.

In a recent paper published in PLOS One, Saint Louis University professor of physics Jean Potvin, Ph.D., and biologist Alexander Werth, Ph.D. at Hampden-Sydney College, detail for the first time how baleen whales use crossflow filtration to separate prey from water without ever coming into contact with the baleen: here.

Humpback whale mothers whisper to calves to avoid predators


This video says about itself:

Baby Humpbacks Need 150 Gallons of Whale Milk a Day

4 February 2016

Whale milk is some of the richest milk available to any mammal. A baby whale will drink 150 gallons of it a day to sustain its dramatic growth.

From Functional Ecology:

High suckling rates and acoustic crypsis of humpback whale neonates maximise potential for mother–calf energy transfer

Summary

1. The migration of humpback whales to and from their breeding grounds results in a short, critical time period during which neonatal calves must acquire sufficient energy via suckling from their fasting mothers to survive the long return journey.
2. Understanding neonate suckling behaviour is critical for understanding the energetics and evolution of humpback whale migratory behaviour and for informing conservation efforts, but despite its importance, very little is known about the details, rate and behavioural context of this critical energy transfer.
3. To address this pertinent data gap on calf suckling behaviour, we deployed multi-sensor Dtags on eight humpback whale calves and two mothers allowing us to analyse detailed suckling and acoustic behaviour for a total of 68-8h.
4. Suckling dives were performed 20-7 7% of the total tagging time with the mothers either resting at the surface or at depth with the calves hanging motionless with roll and pitch angles close to zero.
5. Vocalisations between mother and calf, which included very weak tonal and grunting sounds, were produced more frequently during active dives than suckling dives, suggesting that mechanical stimuli rather than acoustic cues are used to initiate nursing.
6. Use of mechanical cues for initiating suckling and low level vocalisations with an active space of <100 m indicate a strong selection pressure for acoustic crypsis.
7. Such inconspicuous behaviour likely reduces the risk of exposure to eavesdropping predators and male humpback whale escorts that may disrupt the high proportion of time spent nursing and resting, and hence ultimately compromise calf fitness.
8. The small active space of the weak calls between mother and calf is very sensitive to increases in ambient noise from human encroachment thereby increasing the risk of mother–calf separation.

Rare bowhead whale off Dutch coast


This video says about itself:

This adventure film features Scott McVay, an authority on whales, and filmmaker Bill Mason. The objective was to film the bowhead, a magnificent inhabitant of the cold Arctic seas brought to the edge of extinction by overfishing. With helicopter and Inuit guide, aqualungs and underwater cameras, the expedition searches out and meets the bowhead and beluga.

Directed by Bill Mason – 1974

On 10 April 2017, for the first time ever, a bowhead whale was seen off the Dutch coast.

Wilma Bronke and Ingrid Pul saw it near Vlissingen in Zeeland province.

Probably, this is the same bowhead whale as the one seen off the Belgian coast on 31 March. That was the first time ever for this species in Belgium as well.