Skull and buccal cavity allometry increase mass-specific engulfment capacity in fin whales

Jeremy A. Goldbogen, Jean Potvin, Robert E. Shadwick


Rorqual whales (Balaenopteridae) represent not only some of the largest animals of all time, but also exhibit a wide range in intraspecific and interspecific body size. Balaenopterids are characterized by their extreme lunge-feeding behaviour, a dynamic process that involves the engulfment of a large volume of prey-laden water at a high energetic cost. To investigate the consequences of scale and morphology on lunge-feeding performance, we determined allometric equations for fin whale body dimensions and engulfment capacity. Our analysis demonstrates that larger fin whales have larger skulls and larger buccal cavities relative to body size. Together, these data suggest that engulfment volume is also allometric, increasing with body length as Embedded Image. The positive allometry of the skull is accompanied by negative allometry in the tail region. The relative shortening of the tail may represent a trade-off for investing all growth-related resources in the anterior region of the body. Although enhanced engulfment volume will increase foraging efficiency, the work (energy) required to accelerate the engulfed water mass during engulfment will be relatively higher in larger rorquals. If the mass-specific energetic cost of a lunge increases with body size, it will have major consequences for rorqual foraging ecology and evolution.


    • Received September 15, 2009.
    • Accepted October 30, 2009.
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