Prey-mediated behavioral responses of feeding blue whales in controlled sound exposure experiments

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Behavioral response studies provide significant insights into the nature, magnitude, and consequences of changes in animal behavior in response to some external stimulus. Controlled exposure experiments (CEEs) to study behavioral response have faced challenges in quantifying the importance and interaction of individual variability, exposure conditions, and environmental covariates. To begin to investigate these complex parameters relative to blue whale behavior and how it may change as a function of certain sounds, we deployed multi-sensor acoustic tags and conducted CEEs using simulated mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS) and pseudo-random noise (PRN) stimuli, while collecting synoptic, quantitative prey measures. In contrast to the approach used in previous studies that lacked such prey data, our integrated approach explained substantially more variability in blue whale behavioral responses to mid-frequency sounds (r2 = 0.14 vs 0.725). Results demonstrate that deep feeding whales respond more clearly and strongly to CEEs than those in other behavioral states, but this was only evident with the increased explanatory power provided by incorporating prey density and distribution as contextual covariates. This substantially increases the ability to characterize behavioral variability and empirically strengthens previous findings that deep feeding blue whales respond significantly to mid-frequency sound exposure . However, our results are only based on a single behavioral state with a limited sample size, and this analytical framework should be applied broadly across behavioral states. The increased capability to describe and account for individual response variability by including environmental variables driving foraging behavior (prey) underscores the importance of empirically integrating these and other relevant contextual parameters in experimental designs. Our results suggest the need to measure and account for the ecological dynamics of predator-prey interactions when studying the effects of anthropogenic disturbance in feeding animals.


Type of resource software, multimedia
Date created 2011 - 2015


Author Friedlaender, Ari
Author Hazen, Elliott
Author Goldbogen, Jeremy
Author Stimpert, Alison
Author Calambokidis, John
Author Southall, Brandon


Subject foraging behavior
Subject behavioral response
Subject disturbance
Subject whales
Subject prey
Subject controlled exposure experiment
Genre Dataset

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Related Publication Friedlaender, A. S., Hazen, E. L., Goldbogen, J. A., Stimpert, A. K., Calambokidis, J., Southall, B. L. (2016) Prey-mediated responses of feeding blue whales in controlled sound exposure experiments. Ecological Applications.

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Friedlaender, Ari and Hazen, Elliott and Goldbogen, Jeremy and Stimpert, Alison and Calambokidis, John and Southall, Brandon. (2015). Prey-mediated behavioral responses of feeding blue whales in controlled sound exposure experiments. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at:


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