Diel Changes in Humpback Whale (Megaptera Novaeangliae) Feeding Behavior in Response to Sand Lance (Ammodytes SPP.) Behavior and Distribution


Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae have adopted unique feeding strategies to take advantage of behavioral changes in their prey. However, logistical constraints have largely limited ecological analyses of these interactions. Our objectives were to (1) link humpback whale feeding behaviors to concurrent measurements of prey using scientific echo-sounders, and (2) quantify how sand lance behavior influences the feeding behaviors and foraging ecology of humpback whales. To measure, in fine detail, the 3-dimensional orientation and movement patterns of humpback whales underwater, we used a multi-sensor tag attached via suction cups (DTAG). We tested the specific hypothesis that the diel movement patterns of sand lance between bottom substrate and the water column correlates to changes between surface and bottom feeding strategies of humpback whales on Stellwagen Bank, MA. We collected over 96 h of both day- and nighttime data from 15 whales in 2006, and recorded 393 surface and 230 bottom feeding events. Individual whales exhibit both surface and bottom feeding behaviors, switching from one to the other in relation to changing light and prey conditions. Surface feeding behaviors were individually variable in their constitution but ubiquitously biased towards daylight hours, when prey was most abundant in the upper portion of the water column. Bottom feeding behavior occurred largely at night, coincident with when sand lance descend to seek refuge in the substrate. Our data provide novel insights into the behavioral ecology of humpback whales and their prey, indicating significant diel patterns in foraging behaviors concurrent with changes in prey behavior.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Marine Ecology Progress Series





Publisher Place

Nordbunte, Oldendorf, Germany


Inter-Research Science Center

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type

Journal Article