Gait switches in deep-diving beaked whales: biomechanical strategies for long-duration dives

Lucia Martina Martin Lopez, Patrick J. O. Miller, Natacha Aguilar de Soto, Mark Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Diving animals modulate their swimming gaits to promote locomotor efficiency and so enable longer, more productive dives. Beaked whales perform extremely long and deep foraging dives that probably exceed aerobic capacities for some species. Here, we use biomechanical data from suction-cup tags attached to three species of beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris, N = 10; Ziphius cavirostris, N = 9; and Hyperoodon ampullatus, N = 2) to characterize their swimming gaits. In addition to continuous stroking and stroke and-glide gaits described for other diving mammals, all whales produced occasional fluke-strokes with distinctly larger dorsoventral acceleration, which we termed 'type-B' strokes. These high-power strokes occurred almost exclusively during deep dive ascents as part of a novel mixed gait. To quantify body rotations and specific acceleration generated during strokes we adapted a kinematic method combining data from two sensors in the tag. Body rotations estimated with high-rate magnetometer data were subtracted from accelerometer data to estimate the resulting surge and heave accelerations. Using this method, we show that stroke duration, rotation angle and acceleration were bi-modal for these species, with B-strokes having 76% of the duration, 52% larger body rotation and four times more surge than normal strokes. The additional acceleration of B-strokes did not lead to faster ascents, but rather enabled brief glides, which may improve the overall efficiency of this gait. Their occurrence towards the end of long dives leads us to propose that B-strokes may recruit fast-twitch fibres that comprise similar to 80% of swimming muscles in Blainville's beaked whales, thus prolonging foraging time at depth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1325-1338
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • Biomechanics
  • Swimming-gaits
  • Magnetometer
  • Accelerometer
  • Beaked whales
  • Deep diving


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