Beluga Whales Dive Deep To Eat Maximum Food, Study Reveals

Posted: Feb 14 2016, 2:55am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

Beluga Whales Dive Deep to Eat Maximum Food, Study Reveals
Belugas observed among West Greenland sea ice. Credit: Kristin Laidre/University of Washington

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New study sheds light into migration and feeding pattern of rare beluga whales

Beluga whales live in the remote, freezing cold waters of Arctic and there is very little known about the life and ecology of this elusive marine mammal.

Now, researchers from University of Washington has carried out a detailed research on the feeding and migration pattern of this rare whale and revealed some of the exciting details about the animal that are never heard before.

Researchers have found that beluga whales spend winters in Bering Sea but as snow melts, they travel through the north into Beaufort and Chukchi seas and enter the Arctic. Beluga whales fed on Arctic cod and they often dive deep – around 200 to 300 meters and sometimes even 900 meters – to find their food.

For the study, researchers followed 30 beluga whales of two distinct populations for 15 years and made a comprehensive analysis about beluga’s behavior. They have attached tags on their backs and the satellite associated with tags beamed back the data to the researchers, transmitted location and told how deep the dive was.

“This study gives us a benchmark of the distribution and foraging patterns for these two beluga populations,” said lead author Donna Hauser from University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

“It’s a really fantastic system for getting high resolution information for these animals that spend most of their time underwater and offshore. In addition to their inaccessibility, these populations use remote areas of the Arctic, so they are generally hard animals to reach.”

Researchers also looked at the highest concentrations of Arctic cod, which is the primary food source for the belugas. Researchers found that whales frequently dove to the depths where cod fish assembles in large numbers (200-300 meters or 650-1,000 feet), reflecting whales dive deep to eat maximum amount of food and the depth of their dive depends upon where prey is concentrated in water.

Understanding belugas’ baseline behavior is important to understand since climate change is causing to rise the temperatures of the Arctic and it could affect the foraging and migration patterns of these rare whales.

“The results of this work can be used not only to understand ecological relationships for Arctic top predators but also inform the management of beluga whales, which are an important subsistence resource for northern communities.” Co-author Kristin Laidre said.

Researchers are next aiming to see how belugas behavior has changed in relation to the changing sea ice conditions in the Arctic under climate change.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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