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Keywords:

  • Physeter macrocephalus;
  • foraging;
  • vision;
  • bioluminescence

Abstract

Vision may play a central role in sperm whale predation. Two complementary hypotheses regarding the detection and capture of prey items are presented, based on a review of mesopelagic ecology. The first hypothesis postulates that sperm whales locate their prey visually, either silhouetted against the midwater “sky,” or by searching for bioluminescence produced by the movements of their prey. The second hypothesis postulates that sperm whales create a zone of stimulated bioluminescence around the mouth, which attracts squids and other visual predators. Studies of midwater fishes and invertebrates document the importance of vision in mesopelagic communities. If sperm whales search for silhouetted prey, they should be oriented upside-down to improve visual coverage and to facilitate the transition from search to prey capture. Prey capture events should be marked by excursions toward the surface. If they lure their prey, they should swim at a steady pace, with little rapid acceleration, and spend most of their time foraging at depths with the greatest potential for stimulated bioluminescence.