Echolocation behaviour adapted to prey in foraging Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris)

Mark Johnson, L.S. Hicknott, N Aguilar Soto, P.T. Madsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


Toothed whales echolocating in the wild generate clicks with low repetition rates to locate prey but then produce rapid sequences of clicks, called buzzes, when attempting to capture prey. However, little is known about the factors that determine clicking rates or how prey type and behaviour influence echolocation-based foraging. Here we study Blainville's beaked whales foraging in deep water using a multi-sensor DTAG that records both outgoing echolocation clicks and echoes returning from mesopelagic prey. We demonstrate that the clicking rate at the beginning of buzzes is related to the distance between whale and prey, supporting the presumption that whales focus on a specific prey target during the buzz. One whale showed a bimodal relationship between target range and clicking rate producing abnormally slow buzz clicks while attempting to capture large echoic targets, probably schooling prey, with echo duration indicating a school diameter of up to 4.3 m. These targets were only found when the whale performed tight circling manoeuvres spending up to five times longer in water volumes with large targets than with small targets. The result indicates that toothed whales in the wild can adjust their echolocation behaviour and movement for capture of different prey on the basis of structural echo information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-139
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1631
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2008


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