Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mama Whales Teach Babies Where to Eat

10.02.2009
University of Utah biologists discovered that young “right whales” learn from their mothers where to eat, raising concern about their ability to find new places to feed if Earth’s changing climate disrupts their traditional dining areas.

“A primary concern is, what are whales going to do with global warming, which may change the location and abundance of their prey?” asks Vicky Rowntree, research associate professor of biology and a coauthor of the new study. “Can they adapt if they learn from their mother where to feed – or will they die?”

Previous research by Rowntree and colleagues showed that when climate oscillations increase sea temperatures, southern right whales give birth to fewer calves because the warm water reduces the abundance of krill, which are small, shrimp-like crustaceans eaten by the whales.

The new study – scheduled for publication in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Molecular Ecology – used genetic and chemical isotope evidence to show that mothers teach their calves where to go for food.

“Southern right whales consume enormous amounts of food and have to travel vast distances to find adequate amounts of small prey,” says study coauthor Jon Seger, professor of biology at the University of Utah. “This study shows that mothers teach their babies in the first year of life where to go to feed in the immensity of the ocean.”

The study tracked how whales are related by analyzing maternal DNA, and then compared that with dietary information obtained by characterizing different forms or isotopes of chemical elements in their skin. The two techniques – which the researchers say they used together for the first time – allowed the scientists to determine that whale mothers, their offspring and other extended family members eat in the same place.

“North Atlantic right whales feed in similar patterns and scientists have access to their feeding areas, but we don’t know where South Atlantic whales are feeding, so we had to use a combination of techniques to track this down,” says Luciano Valenzuela, a postdoctoral researcher in biology who led the study as part of his doctoral thesis at Utah.

The study’s other coauthor was Mariano Sironi, scientific director of the Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas (Institute for the Conservation of Whales) in Argentina.

Related Whales ‘Chow Down’ Together

For 38 years, Rowntree and colleagues have followed a group of southern right whales that migrate for three months each year to their calving area at Argentina’s Península Valdés, “which is as far south of the equator as we are north of the equator here in Salt Lake City,” says Rowntree, who also directs the right whale program at the Ocean Alliance’s Whale Conservation Institute.

Adult southern right whales are up to 50 feet long, and their calves are about 20 feet long and weigh a ton at birth.

The whales migrate to their calving grounds in winter, when they fast, and give birth in early spring. Three months later, they travel long distances in the South Atlantic to feed for the remainder of the year on krill and on other crustaceans named copepods. Rowntree calls it “a huge chow down.”

Whaling records from the 1800s and 1900s suggested southern right whales had six main feeding areas in the South Atlantic. However, scientists do not know where most of the whales feed now.

Rather than searching for right whale feeding grounds visually – an enormous if not impossible task given the lack of ship traffic in the vast South Atlantic – the scientists took a novel approach. During September and October of 2003 through 2006, Valenzuela collected small skin samples using a punch device that doesn’t harm the animals.

“The skin sample is a little bigger than the size of a pencil eraser,” Rowntree says.

From the skin samples, Valenzuela analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother. The DNA revealed family relationships among whales. The researchers were able to distinguish individual whales by the patterns of whitish, callous-like material on their heads.

The skin samples also were analyzed for different forms or isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. The isotopes, which are present in food, are deposited in different tissues of the body after consumption. Food from any given location has a unique isotope “signature.” That made it possible to determine which whales fed in the same place without actually knowing where the feeding areas were.

Together, the DNA and isotope data revealed which whales were related and where each animal fed.

“The main result is that individuals from particular families have very specific isotope pattern showing that animals from specific lineages feed in the same area,” Valenzuela says.

Because the DNA was mitochondrial, which is passed only from mothers to offspring, the findings indicate mother whales teach their calves where to feed.

The study was funded by Ocean Alliance’s Whale Conservation Institute and the Canadian Whale Institute.

Contacts:
-- Luciano Valenzuela, postdoctoral researcher in biology
– office (801) 587-3405, cellular (801) 898-5290, valenzuela@biology.utah.edu
-- Vicky Rowntree, research associate professor of biology
– office (801) 581-8478, cellular (801) 979-6164 rowntree@biology.utah.edu
-- Jon Seger, professor of biology
– office (801) 581-4758, cellular (801) 597-0771,seger@biology.utah.edu

Lee Siegel | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.utah.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Molecular libraries for organic light-emitting diodes
24.04.2017 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Molecular libraries for organic light-emitting diodes

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Research sheds new light on forces that threaten sensitive coastlines

24.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

24.04.2017 | Machine Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>