Foraging behavior of the least studied Antarctic krill predator, the Antarctic minke whale

June 3 2017

Overview. The seasonal sea-ice influenced marine ecosystem of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) is changing rapidly. To understand how climatic changes will manifest in the demography of predators that rely on this habitat, we first require an understanding of their behavior and ecology. The largest ice-dependent krill predator and most abundant cetacean in the Southern Ocean is the Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis). We will use multi-sensor and video recording tags, fisheries acoustics, and unmanned vehicle systems (aerial and submersible) to study the foraging behavior and ecological role of AMWs in the nearshore waters of the AP.

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June 3 2017

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Expedition Background

The seasonal sea-ice influenced marine ecosystem of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) is changing rapidly. To understand how climatic changes will manifest in the demography of predators that rely on this habitat, we first require an understanding of their behavior and ecology. The largest ice-dependent krill predator and most abundant cetacean in the Southern Ocean is the Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis). Despite their abundance, virtually nothing is known of the foraging behavior or ecological role of this species. Thus, we lack the knowledge to understand how climate- driven changes will affect these animals and therefore the dynamics of the ecosystem as a whole.
Intellectual Merit. We will use multi-sensor and video recording tags, fisheries acoustics, and unmanned vehicle systems (aerial and submersible) to study the foraging behavior and ecological role of AMWs in the nearshore waters of the AP. We pose the following research questions:

  1. What is the feeding performance of AMWs?
  2. How important is sea ice to the foraging behavior of AMW?
  3. How do AMWs feed directly under sea ice?

We will use proven tagging and analytical approaches to characterize the underwater feeding behavior and kinematics of AMWs. Combined with visualizations and quantitative measurements of the prey field, we will measure the energetic costs of feeding and determine how AMWs optimize energy gain. Using animal-borne video recording tags and robotic technology we will assess the quantity and quality of sea ice foraging habitats and determine how feeding that occurs directly under sea ice differs from open water feeding. This knowledge will: (1) significantly enhance our knowledge of the least-studied Antarctic krill predator; and (2) be made directly available to international, long-term efforts to understand how climate-driven changes will affect the structure and function of the Antarctic marine ecosystem.

Our educational and outreach are to increase awareness and understanding of: (i) the ecological role of minke whales around the AP; (ii) the effects of global climate change on an abundant but largely unstudied marine predator; (iii) the advanced methods and technologies used by whale researchers to study these cryptic animals and their prey; and (iv) the variety of careers in ocean science by sharing the experiences of scientists and students. These will be achieved by delivering continuous near-real-time delivery of project events and data to informal audiences through pervasive social media channels, together with a traditional professional development program that will provide formal STEM educators with specific standards-compliant lesson plans. These traditional products will be delivered through the established Scientific Research and Education Network (SCiREN) program in North Carolina.

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Excellent! This is going to be a fun expedition to follow. Thanks for sharing Dave.

Looks awesome, excited to hear more!

Can't wait to follow along.

Excellent, will contact you. I am leading an expedition of citizen scientists to AP in January and we will have a Trident with us, as well as a drone, and an RCSV (remote-controlled surface vessel).