New Study gives Vital Sneak Peek into Foraging Patterns of Beluga Whales

New Study gives Vital Sneak Peek into Foraging Patterns of Beluga Whaless

Technological advancements in tracking devices have for the very first time enabled scientists to thoroughly study the foraging patterns of beluga whales. The new tagging technology has enabled the researchers to find out more information about how the whales forage for food and migrate. Otherwise, these whales have been extremely difficult to follow due to the tough conditions they live in.

Before coming up with their findings, the researchers studied data recorded from 30 beluga whales over the past 15 years. Belugas comprise of two separate populations, both of which swim to the Bering Sea in winter months. As the sun melts Arctic sea ice in the summer months, these whales swim north into the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. But what remains to be seen is what drives these whales to migrate like they do?

In a press release, study lead author Donna Hauser from the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences said, “This study gives us a benchmark of the distribution and foraging patterns for these two beluga populations. However, there still needs to be additional work to see how beluga behavior has changed in concert with changing sea ice conditions in the arctic”.

The tagging data suggests that the belugas are inspired by Arctic cod as they dive 650 to 1,000 feet deep to hunt for fish. But what was also exciting was how the whales take to the ocean bed to find food, and they would base the depths of their dives on sea floor topography.

The researchers claim that their study findings held great significance in view of the effect of climate change on the Arctic. Study co-author Kristin Laidre, also from the University of Washington, claimed the results of this work can be used not only to understand ecological relationships for arctic top predators, but also inform the management of beluga whales.