Yes, fellas, whales are generally right-handed. But they turn to the other side for food.
Blue whales have their own preferred laterality or “handedness". And to understand this behavior further, researchers attached suction “tags” with built-in video cameras, hydrophones and motion sensors to the backs of 63 blue whales. Such tags would then detach after quite a few hours, floating then to the surface for its data to be recovered.
For over six years, they've observed these whales off the coast of southern California. Famous for their theatrical “lunge feeding” acrobatics near the ocean surface (bet you've heard about that and even seen it in videos), they go upwards into swarms of krill--tiny crustaceans--and then create 360 degree barrel rolls.
However, while mostly right-handed, they almost always execute the roll to their left suggesting that they switch laterality when feeding. US lead researcher Ari Friedlaender, at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute thinks they do this as it allows their dominant right eye to target their prey more effectively.
“We were completely surprised by these findings, but when considering the means by which the whales attack smaller prey patches, the behaviour really seems to be effective, efficient, and in line with the mechanisms that drive their routine foraging behaviours,” he says. They are actually the first known animal to alter their laterality as an adjustment to certain task.
Now, their feeding frenzies aren't just breathtaking, they're interestingly strategic as well. All for food!
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