Humpback Whales Share New Hunting Techniques


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It is a well-documented fact that humpback whales gather their prey by creating 'bubble nets'- that is, blow bubbles underwater to confuse shoals of fish and cause them to herd together, giving the whales a perfect opportunity to devour them in one gulp.

However, in the 1980's the whales in the Atlantic Ocean off New England, underwent a food crisis when the supply of their favorite herring declined due to over-fishing and damage to coastal wetlands where young fish develop. While the scientists pondered over how the whales would survive, the mammals in that area, were smart enough to figure it out.

They simply found a new prey - the sand lance. However, these tiny fish often called sand eels, did not get conned by just the 'bubble net'. The whales had to add a twist to their fishing skills -first hitting the water with their tails before diving in to blow bubbles, a technique scientists call 'lobtail feeding'.

While the fact that the whales off the Atlantic figured out a totally new prey and fishing technique is in itself amazing, what is even more so, is that over the years, they have been sharing it with the rest of the population and now, approximately 40% of them use it to capture sand lance.

In order to confirm that it was the whales that taught each other, the scientists dug deeper into the data and found that such was the case for 87% of them. Only 13% had figured it out on their own.

This is not the first time these mammals have shown a level of social interaction hitherto known to exist only in humans and some other primates. In 2011, scientists from University of Queensland revealed that these amazing mammals even share special melodies with each other.

The latest finding that was published in this month's Journal of Science was the work of scientists from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and is derived from 30 years of observation data by naturalists on whale watching boats that patrol the Gulf of Maine, each summer.


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