UH Manoa researchers capture whale bubble-net feeding

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — UH Manoa researchers and their partners have captured amazing whale’s-point-of-view and aerial drone video of humpback whale bubble-net feeding.

It’s one component of a project investigating causes of a possible decline in humpback whale numbers done by the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) researchers and key collaborators.

They used suction-cup tags fitted with cameras and sensors to gain an understanding of how humpback whales feed and how some whales use bubbles to optimize their consumption of prey by creating bubble nets.

This all happened in waters off of Southeast Alaska

The tag data (video and accelerometer data) coupled with the drone data, is providing novel insights into the fine-scale details of how the whales carry out this behavior and how often they do this to sustain and gain enough energy and weight before they migrate back down to Hawaii to breed and mate.

The project includes the work of Lars Bejder, director of the UH Manoa Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP), UH Manoa PhD student Martin van Aswegen, key collaborator Andy Szabo, Alaska Whale Foundation director, working with PhD student Will Gough and other members of Stanford University’s Goldbogen Lab and the Bio-telemetry and Behavioral Ecology Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The bubble-net observations and data collection are part of a larger project investigating causes of a possible decline in humpback whale numbers, including shifts in habitat use and changes to food availability linked to prey depletion and climate change.

Did you know? About 3,000 humpback whales visit Alaska during the summer feeding period, and up to 10,000 visit Hawaii during the winter breeding period.

When the whales leave their foraging grounds and migrate 3,000 miles, they stop eating until their return several months later.

The MMRP’s bubble-net research is helping scientists to understand how humpback whales feed, how often they need to feed, what they feed on and how fast their bodies change or grow.

Others involved in the project include The Pacific Whale Foundation, Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology Researcher Kristi West and UH Hilo Professor Adam Pack.

You can follow the progress on the MMRP website and social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram: MMRP_UH, Facebook: MMRPUH, Youtube: MMRP UH.

The program is also accepting donations to fund research initiatives and student scholarships. All donations are tax-exempt.

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