SYDNEY – A small camera placed for the first time inside the body of a minke whale, which is yet to be subject to a proper study, showed the animal feeding in a manner resembling Pac-Man in the Antarctic waters, according to footage released on Friday.
The video, which was a part of a United States-Australia project, revealed how this cetacean moved at 24 kilometers per hour (14.9 miles per hour) while accelerating to eat like the videogame character Pac-Man.
The throat pleats of a minke, the second-smallest whale species, expanded with every gulp of prey-laden water, according to a statement by the World Wildlife Fund.
“What was remarkable was the frequency of the lunges and how quickly they could process water and feed again, repeating the task about every 10 seconds on a feeding dive. He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding,” said Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the research.
Minke whales, which measure around nine meters (some 30 feet) in length, feed by ingesting water containing krill or small fish, which they filter using specialized feeding plates.
“What’s amazing to me is how fast the minke swims and how quickly it can feed,” added Friedlaender.
Other larger ones such as blue or fin whales take in a huge volume of water equivalent to their body mass, but unlike the minke, take up to a minute to process each gulp.
Friedlaender said the small size of the minkes allows them to maneuver through the sea ice and feed rapidly and helped them to find a niche in Antarctica.
On the other hand, the larger whales need the open seas and areas with dense patches of krill or small fish to offset the energy required to accelerate, lunge, and process large gulps of water.
“But minkes can feed among the ice because of their size. Interestingly, their small size also decreases the energy it takes to feed, and thus they can take advantage of less dense patches of prey,” Friedlaender said.
Sea ice is important for minke whales as not only do they serve as a source for food but also allows them to hide from predators, such as the killer whales.
Climate change has been a threat to their habitat as over the last 50 years sea ice has advanced two months later and retreats one month earlier in the Antarctic Peninsula.
Fishing for krill in regions such as the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Arc is another threat faced by minke whales, along with other krill predators such as penguins, seals and seabirds.