How Whales and Krill Gather Spotted by Ocean Mapping

Greg Howard
28th February, 2024

How Whales and Krill Gather Spotted by Ocean Mapping

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

In the vast and ever-changing seas, the dance between predators and their prey is a complex one, influenced by the swirling patterns of ocean currents. At the heart of this dance are the baleen whales, colossal filter-feeders that roam the oceans in search of dense swarms of krill, their tiny crustacean prey. But how do these ocean giants locate such elusive feasts in the vast blue expanse? Recent research from Stanford University[1] sheds light on this aquatic mystery, revealing the critical role of ocean currents in bringing together predator and prey. The California Current System, a Pacific Ocean region known for its rich marine life, served as the stage for this investigation. Scientists have long suspected that the ocean's physical dynamics play a pivotal role in the productivity of marine ecosystems, but concrete evidence has been elusive. The Stanford team focused on submescale surface current features—complex ocean patterns smaller than 100 kilometers across, which can be thought of as the ocean's equivalent of atmospheric weather systems. These features, known as Lagrangian coherent structures (LCS), are like invisible highways in the sea, guiding the movement of water and the life within it. By integrating remote sensing techniques, which allow for the observation of the ocean from satellites, with ship-based surveys of krill and whale distributions, the researchers uncovered a striking pattern. Where these LCS were present, krill were found to be up to 2.6 times more abundant, and baleen whales up to 8.3 times more likely to be found. The study's findings resonate with earlier research that highlighted the importance of prey aggregation in marine food webs[2]. It was observed that during coastal upwelling, when nutrient-rich water rises to the surface, certain fish and crustaceans rapidly cluster together. Predators like blue whales have been found to track these aggregations, following the upwelling plumes to feast on the concentrated prey. Moreover, the role of ocean eddies, particularly anticyclonic ones, has been recognized for creating hotspots of marine life by accumulating prey[3]. These swirling water masses can attract a diverse array of predators, turning them into bustling hubs of oceanic activity. The current study builds on this understanding by pinpointing LCS as another key feature that concentrates marine organisms and facilitates predator-prey encounters. The implications of this research extend beyond ecological curiosity. By identifying LCS as indicators of where krill—and by extension, their baleen whale predators—are likely to be found, we gain valuable insights for conservation efforts. For instance, dynamic management strategies could be developed to reduce the risk of ship strikes on whales, a growing concern as marine traffic increases. Furthermore, the study's findings are particularly timely given the challenges posed by climate change. As oceanic conditions shift, understanding how physical processes like LCS influence marine life distribution is crucial for predicting and mitigating the impacts on these ecosystems. In conclusion, the Stanford University study has illuminated a vital link in the marine food chain. By connecting the dots between submescale ocean currents, krill density, and whale distribution, it has provided a clearer picture of the ocean's intricate web of life. As we continue to unravel the secrets of the sea, such research not only deepens our understanding of the natural world but also equips us with the knowledge to protect it.

EcologyMarine Biology


Main Study

1) Submesoscale coupling of krill and whales revealed by aggregative Lagrangian coherent structures.

Published 28th February, 2024

Journal: Proceedings. Biological sciences

Issue: Vol 291, Issue 2017, Feb 2024

Related Studies

2) Oceanic giants dance to atmospheric rhythms: Ephemeral wind-driven resource tracking by blue whales.

3) Anticyclonic eddies aggregate pelagic predators in a subtropical gyre.

Related Articles

An unhandled error has occurred. Reload 🗙