you're reading...


Tagging the deepest diving mammal: the Cuvier’s beaked whale

Shearer JM et al. 2019 Diving behaviour of Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. R. Soc. open sci. 6: 181728. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.181728

A few years ago, the Cuvier’s beaked whales set the record as the deepest diving mammal. At the time, not much else was known about their diving abilities. Check out what Shearer’s team has done to study these elusive divers off the coast of North Carolina.

Despite their near-global range (Figure 1) and large size (almost 20 feet in length), beaked whales are among the most understudied cetaceans. What makes these giants so elusive? They spend most of their time diving deeper than most ocean technology can go. As the deepest diving mammal ever recorded, the Cuvier’s beaked whale may be the most difficult to research. But the crushing pressure of the bathypelagic zone does not stop Shearer’s team of researchers from studying these remarkable whales.

Figure 1. Cuvier’s Beaked Whale Range. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Tracking the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

So how do you tag a whale that only surfaces for 2.2 minutes (median duration)? This team of researchers patiently waited for the Cuvier’s beaked whales to surface near Cape Hatteras (Figure 2) off the coast of North Carolina. With only a few minutes at the surface, the team worked quickly to approach the animal and carefully attach a LIMPET tag to the dorsal fin of the whale using a pneumatic rifle. Once attached, the satellite tag would track the location of the individuals for months between 2014 and 2016.

Figure 2. Cape Hatteras Map. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The longest, deepest Cuvier’s beaked whale dive ever recorded was off the coast of California (137.5 min, 2992 m). Shearer’s team soon found that the Cuvier’s beaked whales near North Carolina dive almost as deep. Of the 11 tagged whales, the deepest dive was 2800 m (9186 ft). The whales would dive for about an hour before surfacing (imagine holding your breath that long!).

Figure 3. Beaked whale skeletons at Bonehenge Whale Center. Source: Constance Sartor

Fine dining in the midnight zone

So why dive so deep? Shearer’s team thinks the whales are searching for food near the sea floor. If you look at their skull (Figure 3), they only have two teeth protruding from their lower jaw. With only two teeth, how do they capture prey? Beaked whales suck! (Figure 4) Using suction, it is thought these whales pull in squid and other cephalopods, crustaceans, and fish. The team believes that these whales feed near the seafloor, but unfortunately, we don’t know for sure. We need more data to determine exactly how deep the ocean is off the coast of North Carolina where the Cuvier’s beaked whales feed.

Figure 4. Beaked whales use suction to capture their prey. Source: Constance Sartor

Silent surface intervals

Something we do know is that the Cuvier’s beaked whales only surface for 2-8 minutes (2.2-minute median). During this time, they are quite silent and stealthy, rarely communicating using echolocation. Shearer’s team hypothesizes that the whales are quiet in order to avoid predatory killer whales. Giving away their location could result in an attack.

With over 3242 hours of data collected on the mysterious Cuvier’s beaked whales, Shearer’s team was the first to study the diving behavior of this mammal in the Atlantic Ocean. Compared to those in California, Hawaii, Italy, and the Bahamas, the Cuvier’s beaked whales in North Carolina have deeper average dives for shorter periods of time. Shearer’s team hopes to improve upon the tag design and increase their sample size to eliminate gaps in their data.



No comments yet.

Post a Comment


  • by oceanbites 5 days ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 2 weeks ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 3 weeks ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 1 month ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Feeling a bit flattened by the week? So are these summer flounder larvae. Fun fact: flounder larvae start out with their eyes set like normal fish, but as they grow one of their eyes migrates to meet the other and
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Have you seen a remote working setup like this? This is a photo from one of our Oceanbites team members Anne Hartwell. “A view from inside the control can of an underwater robot we used to explore the deep parts
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Today is the day of  #shutdownacademia  and  #shutdownstem  and many of us at the Oceanbites team are taking the day to plan solid actions for how we can make our organization and the institutions we work at a better place
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Black lives matter. The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have once again brought to light the racism in our country. All of us at Oceanbites stand with our Black colleagues, friends, readers, and family. The
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com