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October 15, 2009

AlbatrossCam — On the trail of the killer whale


Long story short: researchers attached lipstick-sized still cameras to four black-browed albatrosses, which returned thousands of images of featureless open ocean among which were scattered some remarkable pictures (above and below).

Caption for the photo above: "A killer whale breaking the ocean surface, apparent from its dorsal fin [white arrow] and three black-browed albatrosses attracted to the whale."

Here's Henry Fountain's October 9, 2009 New York Times Science section story with more.



Aerial View: Albatrosses Following a Killer Whale

Surveillance cameras are everywhere these days, capturing just about everything: the good, the bad, the unmentionable.

One has even soared above the Southern Ocean, attached to the back of black-browed albatrosses. It has captured a rare sight: albatrosses following a killer whale, probably to obtain food.

The camera weighs less than three ounces and includes depth and temperature sensors. It was installed on four albatrosses at Bird Island in the southern Atlantic.

Kentaro Q. Sakamoto of Hokkaido University in Japan, Philip N. Trathan of the British Antarctic Survey and colleagues pored through thousands of images. While most were of the featureless open ocean [above], they report in PLoS ONE that one bird encountered a killer whale [top]. The bird appeared to have descended to the surface, perhaps to eat scraps left behind by the whale.

The photograph suggested albatrosses may sometimes forage in the open ocean the way other seabirds do closer to shore — by following other predators for clues or leftovers.


The caption for the photo below: "A fisheries vessel in the distance (white arrow) with an aggregation of birds."


Wrote Bex Walton in an October 7, 2009 PLoS ONE community blog post, "Kentaro Sakamoto of Hokkaido University, Japan, and colleagues at the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan, and the British Antarctic Survey detail the fascinating interactions between black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys) and a killer whale (Orcinus orca) in the Southern Ocean. The images were captured by small cameras about the size of a packet of Polos (or a lipstick) attached to the birds and show the birds foraging in groups and feeding with a killer whale."

Finally, here's the abstract of the PLoS ONE report.



From the Eye of the Albatrosses: A Bird-Borne Camera Shows An Association Between Albatrosses and a Killer Whale in the Southern Ocean

Albatrosses fly many hundreds of kilometers across the open ocean to find and feed upon their prey. Despite the growing number of studies concerning their foraging behaviour, relatively little is known about how albatrosses actually locate their prey. Here, we present our results from the first deployments of a combined animal-borne camera and depth data logger on free-ranging black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys). The still images recorded from these cameras showed that some albatrosses actively followed a killer whale (Orcinus orca), possibly to feed on food scraps left by this diving predator. The camera images together with the depth profiles showed that the birds dived only occasionally, but that they actively dived when other birds or the killer whale were present. This association with diving predators or other birds may partially explain how albatrosses find their prey more efficiently in the apparently ‘featureless’ ocean, with a minimal requirement for energetically costly diving or landing activities.


Can't get enough?


No problem: read/print out the original PLoS ONE article in its entirety here.

October 15, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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