May I present to you the whale cam.
In a first-of-its-kind use of the point-of-view animal cam, researchers exploring the frigid waters surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula have attached a camera to a minke whale. The resulting footage is an exciting ride that also yields valuable clues about the role these krill-eating whales play in the ecosystem.
The video comes from a juvenile minke whale, who Chris Johnson, senior manager of World Wildlife Fund’s Antarctic Program, said “looked like he was having fun” in a statement. It’s hard to argue otherwise looking at the footage.
In addition to a camera, scientists tagged the whale with sensors. They show that the whale raced through the water at speeds up to 15 mph, lunging at krill with its pointed snout. At one point in the footage, it breaches the water to reveal a whale’s eye view of the icy peaks of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The scientists put the camera on the whale using suction cups that can stay attached for up to 48 hours, so rest assured no whales were harmed in the making of this video.
“What was remarkable was the frequency of the lunges and how quickly they could process water and feed again, repeating the task about every 10 seconds on a feeding dive,” Ari Friedlaender, a whale researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. “He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding.”
Friedlaender has been researching the whales for years, and said tagging the whale and watching it frolic and feed was “one of the most memorable moments of my scientific life.”
Little is known about minke whales even though scientists believe they may be the most common whale prowling the waters around Antarctica. They are frequently hunted by Norway and Japan, including an extremely controversial Japanese project that kills hundreds of whales in the name of research. Scientists have widely criticized it and activists have tried to stop it, leading Japanese officials to look into building a faster boat to kill more whales and evade interference.
Friedlaender became the first person to tag minke whales with sensors that recorded the whales’ location along with temperature, pressure, speed, and magnetic field. Those tags lacked the wow factor of a camera, but returned valuable information on how the whales feed and interact by tracking nearly 3,000 feeding dives. He told Science in 2014 that this effort provided more data than decades of bloody Japanese research.
The findings published from that data show that minke whales skim krill under the sea ice, a behavior no other whales have ever exhibited. What happens to sea ice as the climate changes could impact the whales’ ability to feed.
The Antarctic Peninsula has seen sea ice cover around it shrink since record keeping began. On the western side of the peninsula, sea ice season is 90 days shorter. Its floating ice shelves have also experienced major changes, the most recent of which has been the huge iceberg that broke off Larsen C. How those changes impact minke whales is important to researchers, but so is how the fisheries around the region are managed.
“These tags are helping us understand not only how baleen whales forage but also the locations of their favorite feeding spots,” Johnson said. “This will allow us to work with CCAMLR [the commission that helps manage Antarctic fisheries] and the industry to keep fishing away from these critical feeding areas.”