Intra-seasonal variation in feeding rates and diel foraging behaviour in a seasonally fasting mammal, the humpback whale.
Antarctic humpback whales forage in summer, coincident with the seasonal abundance of their primary prey, the Antarctic krill. During the feeding season, humpback whales accumulate energy stores sufficient to fuel their fasting period lasting over six months. Previous animal movement modelling work (using area-restricted search as a proxy) suggests a hyperphagic period late in the feeding season, similar in timing to some terrestrial fasting mammals. However, no direct measures of seasonal foraging behaviour existed to corroborate this hypothesis. We attached high-resolution, motion-sensing biologging tags to 69 humpback whales along the Western Antarctic Peninsula throughout the feeding season from January to June to determine how foraging effort changes throughout the season. Our results did not support existing hypotheses: we found a significant reduction in foraging presence and feeding rates from the beginning to the end of the feeding season. During the early summer period, feeding occurred during all hours at high rates. As the season progressed, foraging occurred mostly at night and at lower rates. We provide novel information on seasonal changes in foraging of humpback whales and suggest that these animals, contrary to nearly all other animals that seasonally fast, exhibit high feeding rates soon after exiting the fasting period.