The blue whale is the planet’s largest creature, measuring to about 100 feet and weighing as much as 200 tons.
The sleek leviathans feed exclusively on tiny, shrimp-like krill, and a single blue whale can consume up to four tons of krill per day. So it’s awe-inspiring to watch blue whales feed, and scientists off New Zealand recently captured this spectacular event from overhead, using drones.
The footage, released this week by the University of Oregon, shows an enormous blue whale approaching and devouring an entire krill patch in one gulp, during a behavior referred to as surface lunge-feeding.
Lunge-feeding is sometimes witnessed from boats, but the overhead perspective reveals the entire process – the whale turning on its side, slowing dramatically while opening its mouth, and lunging ferociously through the krill.
Leigh Torres, principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, told the New Zealand Herald that the study tested the theory that blue whales will only expend the energy required attack a krill patch if there’s sufficient reward.
“The whale bypasses certain krill patches – presumably because the nutritional payoff isn’t sufficient – and targets other krill patches that are more lucrative,” Torres said. “We think this is because blue whales are so big, and stopping to lunge-feed and then speeding up again is so energy-intrusive, that they try to maximize their effort.”
The footage, which also shows a blue whale ignoring a smaller krill patch, was captured via drones flown at what was considered a safe distance.
Among the many remarkable facts associated with these animals – whose tongues are as large as a full-grown elephant – is that they use sounds to communicate with other blue whales from as far as 1,000 miles.
A blue whale calf enters the world measuring 25 feet and weighing an astonishing 3 tons. Calves will gain 200 pounds per day while nursing on mother’s milk.