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The pingers and the porpoise – preventing deaths in fishing nets in Cornwall

The pingers and the porpoise – preventing deaths in fishing nets in Cornwall

When a porpoise or dolphin swims into a fishing net, rope or line, they can...
Putting whale and dolphin welfare on the agenda

Putting whale and dolphin welfare on the agenda

Every whale and dolphin is important. You know that, but in the past, conservationists have...
Christmas…how to get it wrapped without plastic

Christmas…how to get it wrapped without plastic

It’s that time of year again when there’s only one thing on most people’s minds...
Frozen waste – missed opportunity to address deep concerns over Norway’s ‘snorkel-with-orcas’ tours

Frozen waste – missed opportunity to address deep concerns over Norway’s ‘snorkel-with-orcas’ tours

Beats me why anyone would want to snorkel in the deep, dark ice-cold waters off...
Buying fish – can you ever be sure that dolphins haven’t suffered?

Buying fish – can you ever be sure that dolphins haven’t suffered?

In the future, dolphins, porpoises and whales won’t get caught in fishing gear – that’s...
Bringing home the misery of orca captivity

Bringing home the misery of orca captivity

Emma Stallworthy and Caroline Willis spent much of 2019 as residential volunteers at our Scottish...
Europe’s first whale disentanglement training course for fishers takes place in Scotland

Europe’s first whale disentanglement training course for fishers takes place in Scotland

More whales and dolphins, as well as basking sharks and other marine animals, are getting...
My wonderful week as a dolphin research volunteer

My wonderful week as a dolphin research volunteer

Joelle Davies has always wanted to join our research team in Wales on their annual...

Can kick-feeding techniques in Gulf of Maine humpback whales determine personalities?

My name is Laine McCall and I’m a research intern for WDC. I began as a field research intern in the summer of 2015 and returned this summer to help WDC pilot a new behavior study.


This summer, WDC started data collection for a new study asking the question as to whether humpback whales have personalities.   Looking at personalities from a scientific point of view means looking at how individuals consistently behave differently over their lifetimes.  Trying to figure personality types of whales is a big challenge. We are starting by looking at how they eat, and specifically, a technique called kick-feeding.  When a humpback whale “kick-feeds”, they kick, or slap the water surface to disturb fish before they create bubble clouds or nets to entrap the fish in a tighter circle, allowing them a larger mouthful.  This behavior appears to be unique to humpback whales feeding in the Gulf of Maine and was first seen in the early 1980s.  This feeding method is also an example of how social learning can spread through the population of whales. These whales learned this feeding strategy from their peers, not from their mother when they were a calf, the same way you may have learned about a new band or television show.  Not all Gulf of Maine humpback whales kick-feed, however, some strictly create the bubble clouds or bubble nets without the initial kick.


 For this study, we are recording video footage to see if Gulf of Maine humpback whales, including many of the whales in our whale adoption family, display unique characteristics when they kick-feed. From what we’ve seen so far, there are some distinct differences between the kick-feeding styles of individuals with some whales kicking just once, while others “kick” several times before beginning the bubble net. Most of the whales have fast, forceful kicks while others are slower and more dramatic.   We don’t yet know if some of these differences are a factor of how deep the fish are, or the types of fish they are eating, or indeed if the whales are at different stages of learning how to kick-feed with the most efficiency. But so far, it does appear that individuals are consistent with their style.  We even suspect that some whale rarely (or never) kick, but reap the rewards of the kicking efforts of others and we need to investigate this further.

In the video below, can you pick up on any differences between Abrasion’s and Tornado’s kick-feeding styles?

Not that we here at WDC need to be convinced to appreciate whales, but learning about the social complexities of these fascinating whales can provide further evidence that these intelligent creatures deserve to be saved. I hope you’ll follow our updates on this project as it progresses, and consider supporting our work.

George Berry

About George Berry

George is responsible for WDC's websites across the various countries where we operate.