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Media opportunity: Whales have learned to identify fishing vessels as the food trucks of the sea, according to Dalhousie University research that also revealed their dietary preferences
Two species of whales in North Atlantic waters have learned that there is a benefit to sticking close to fishing vessels hauling in their catches -- the boats may yield a delicious bounty of discarded or escaped fish.
Researchers studying northern bottlenose and sperm whales interacting with deep-water trawlers off the eastern Grand Banks of the western North Atlantic in 2007 found the mammals learned to identify the vessels as an easy source of food and would surface when the boats were hauling in their catches.
The whales appeared to be discerning in their tastes as well, preferring Greenland halibut over redfish or thorny skate.
Laura Joan Feyrer of Dalhousie University's Department of Biology outlined the findings in a new paper that documented repeated sightings of uniquely marked sperm whales, some of which followed trawlers between fishing areas more than 230 kilometres apart.
There were no repeat sightings of northern bottlenose whales in different locations, suggesting that individuals may be less likely to follow vessels or move between areas.
Dr. Feyrer is available to discuss the study, which provides new insights into vessel-whale interactions in this remote region and the earliest description of northern bottlenose whales engaging in this behaviour.
Senior Research Reporter
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