Whale sharks increase swimming effort while filter feeding, but appear to maintain high foraging efficiencies

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Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) – the largest extant fish species – reside in tropical environments, making them an exception to the general rule that animal size increases with latitude. How this largest fish thrives in tropical environments that promote high metabolism but support less robust zooplankton communities has not been sufficiently explained. We used open-source inertial measurement units (IMU) to log 397 hours of whale shark behavior in Yucatan, Mexico, at a site of both active feeding and intense wildlife tourism. Here we show that the strategies employed by whale sharks to compensate for the increased drag of an open mouth are similar to ram-feeders five orders of magnitude smaller and one order of magnitude larger. Presumed feeding constituted 20% of the total time budget of four sharks, with individual feeding bouts lasting up to 11 consecutive hrs. Compared to normal, sub-surface swimming, three sharks increased their stroke rate and amplitude while surface feeding, while one shark that fed at depth did not demonstrate a greatly increased energetic cost. Additionally, based on time-depth budgets, we estimate that aerial surveys of shark populations should consider including a correction factor of 3 to account for the proportion of daylight hours that sharks are not visible at the surface. With foraging bouts generally lasting several hours, interruptions to foraging during critical feeding periods may represent substantial energetic costs to these endangered species, and this study presents baseline data from which management decisions affecting tourist interactions with whale sharks may be made.


Type of resource software, multimedia
Date created April 17, 2020


Author Cade, David E
Author Levenson, J. Jacob
Author Cooper, Robert
Author de la Parra, Rafael
Author Webb, D. Harry
Author Dove, Alistair M


Subject Hopkins Marine Station
Subject Whale Shark
Subject filter-feeding
Subject tail-beat kinematics
Genre Dataset

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Related Publication Cade, D. E., Levenson, J. J., Cooper, B., de la Parra, R., Webb, D. H., & Dove, A. (2020). Whale sharks increase swimming effort while filter feeding, but appear to maintain high foraging efficiencies. Journal of Experimental Biology. 223, jeb224402. doi:10.1242/jeb.224402
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Location https://purl.stanford.edu/dp151fd3984

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Cade, David E and Levenson, J. Jacob and Cooper, Robert and de la Parra, Rafael and Webb, D. Harry and Dove, Alistair M. (2020). Whale sharks increase swimming effort while filter feeding, but appear to maintain high foraging efficiencies. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at: https://purl.stanford.edu/dp151fd3984


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