Beaked whales and state-dependent decision-making: how does body condition affect the trade-off between foraging and predator avoidance?



Body condition is central to how animals balance foraging with predator-avoidance – a trade-off that fundamentally affects animal fitness. Animals in poor condition may accept greater predation risk to satisfy current foraging “needs”, whilst those in good condition may be more risk averse to protect future “assets”. These state-dependent behavioural predictions can help interpret responses to human activities, but are little explored in marine animals. This study investigates the influence of body condition on how beaked whales trade off foraging and predator-avoidance. Body density (indicating lipid-energy stores) was estimated for 15 foraging northern bottlenose whales tagged near Jan Mayen, Norway. Composite indices of foraging (diving and echolocation clicks) and anti-predation (long ascents, non-foraging dives and silent periods reducing predator eavesdropping) were negatively related. Experimental sonar exposures led to decreased foraging and increased risk aversion, confirming a foraging/perceived safety trade-off. However, lower lipid stores were not related to a decrease in predator-avoidance versus foraging, i.e. worse condition animals did not prioritise foraging. Individual differences (‘personalities’) or reproductive context could offer alternative explanations for the observed state-behaviour relationships. This study provides evidence of foraging/predator-avoidance trade-offs in a marine top predator and demonstrates that animals in worse condition might not always take more risks.
Date made available2021

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