Send to

Choose Destination
J R Soc Interface. 2009 Nov 6;6(40):1005-25. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2008.0492. Epub 2009 Jan 20.

Passive versus active engulfment: verdict from trajectory simulations of lunge-feeding fin whales Balaenoptera physalus.

Author information

Department of Physics, Saint Louis University, 3450 Lindell Boulevard, Saint Louis, MO 63103, USA.


Lunge-feeding in rorqual whales represents the largest biomechanical event on Earth and one of the most extreme feeding methods among aquatic vertebrates. By accelerating to high speeds and by opening their mouth to large gape angles, these whales generate the water pressure required to expand their mouth around a large volume of prey-laden water. Such large influx is facilitated by highly extensible ventral groove blubber (VGB) associated with the walls of the throat (buccal cavity). Based on the mechanical properties of this tissue, previous studies have assumed lunge-feeding to be an entirely passive process, where the flow-induced pressure driving the expansion of the VGB is met with little resistance. Such compliant engulfment would be facilitated by the compliant properties of the VGB that have been measured on dead specimens. However, adjoining the ventral blubber are several layers of well-developed muscle embedded with mechanoreceptors, thereby suggesting a capability to gauge the magnitude of engulfed water and use eccentric muscle action to control the flux of water into the mouth. An unsteady hydrodynamic model of fin whale lunge-feeding is presented here to test whether engulfment is exclusively passive and compliant or involves muscle action. The model is based on the explicit simulation of the engulfed water as it interacts with the buccal cavity walls of the whale, under different heuristically motivated cavity forces. Our results, together with their comparison with velocity data collected in the field, suggest that adult rorquals actively push engulfed water forward from the very onset of mouth opening in order to successfully complete a lunge. Interestingly, such an action involves a reflux of the engulfed mass rather than the oft-assumed rebound, which would occur mainly at the very end of a lunge sequence dominated by compliant engulfment. Given the great mass of the engulfed water, reflux creation adds a significant source of hydrodynamic drag to the lunge process, but with the benefit of helping to circumvent the problem of removing prey from baleen by enhancing the efficiency of cross-flow filtration after mouth closing. Reflux management for a successful lunge will therefore demand well-coordinated muscular actions of the tail, mouth and ventral cavity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center