Morphological specializations of baleen whales associated with hydrodynamic performance and ecological niche

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Abstract

Feeding behavior, prey type, and habitat appear to be associated with the morphological design of body, fluke, and flippers in baleen whales. Morphometric data from whaling records and recent stranding events were compiled, and morphometric parameters describing the body length, and fluke and flipper dimensions for an “average” blue whale Balaenoptera musculus, humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae, gray whale Eschrichtius robustus, and right whale Eubalaena glacialis were determined. Body mass, body volume, body surface area, and fluke and flipper surface areas were estimated. The resultant morphological configurations lent themselves to the following classifications based on hydrodynamic principles: fast cruiser, slow cruiser, fast maneuverer, and slow maneuverer. Blue whales have highly streamlined bodies with small, high aspect ratio flippers and flukes for fast efficient cruising in the open ocean. On the other hand, the rotund right whale has large, high aspect ratio flukes for efficient slow speed cruising that is optimal for their continuous filter feeding technique. Humpbacks have large, high aspect ratio flippers and a large, low aspect ratio tail for quick acceleration and high-speed maneuvering which would help them catch their elusive prey, while gray whales have large, low aspect ratio flippers and flukes for enhanced low-speed maneuvering in complex coastal water habitats. J. Morphol., 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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