Animal Cognition

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 239–243 | Cite as

Evidence for the perceptual origin of right-sided feeding biases in cetaceans

  • Karina Karenina
  • Andrey Giljov
  • Tatiana Ivkovich
  • Yegor MalashichevEmail author
Short Communication


Foraging behaviour of many cetacean species features the side biases at the population level. The origin of these behavioural lateralisations remains generally unclear. Here we explored lateralisation in aerial display of resident orcas in different behavioural contexts. Side preferences were analysed in lunging during foraging and breaching. One event of each type of displays per individually identified orca was used for analysis. Orcas showed a population-level preference to lunge on the right side when foraging (75 % of lunges). In contrast, no lateralisation was found in breaching (54 % of breaches to the right, 45 % to the left). The right-sided bias in foraging found in orcas is in line with evidence from other whales, both baleen and toothed, and confirms the uniformity of feeding biases among cetaceans. In contrast to breaching, lunging in orcas was associated with fish pursuit, that is, with focused attention to and sensory perception of prey stimulus. The emergence of lateralisation in lunging and the absence of significant bias in breaching suggest that feeding biases in whales are underpinned by sensory lateralisation, that is, by lateralised hemispheric processing of sensory information about the prey. Evidence from orcas may be extrapolated to other cetaceans since right-sided biases in lunging during foraging is a very widespread phenomenon and likely to have a common origin. Our findings support the hypothesis that right-sided feeding biases are determined by left-hemisphere specialisation.


Lateralisation Left hemisphere Cetaceans Breaching Lunge feeding Laterality in whales 



We are grateful to Erich Hoyt, Alexandr Burdin, Mikhail Nagaylik, Mikhail Guzeev, Ekaterina Borisova and Anton Biatov for their help in the field work organisation and data collection. We would like to acknowledge Janeane Ingram for language corrections. Expeditions were supported by Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), the Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation, the Humane Society International, and Animal Welfare Institute. Data processing and analytical work were supported by the Russian Scientific Fund (Grant #14-14-00284).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Data collection was carried out as part of a complex population monitoring programme aimed at collecting general data on the behaviour, distribution, and ecology of orcas. Every effort was made to minimise possible disturbance to the orcas. Approach and observation of cetaceans for research purposes requires no special permissions according to local laws and regulations in Russia. Usual whale-watching guidelines applied in USA to minimise the possible negative impact on whales were followed. This article does not contain any studies involving human participants performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

Online Resource 1

(Video) Orca lunging on the right side during foraging. (MPG 2146 kb)

10071_2015_899_MOESM2_ESM.mpg (6.6 mb)
Online Resource 2 (Video) Orca breaching on the right side. (MPG 6782 kb)
10071_2015_899_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (16 kb)
Online Resource 3 (Table) Orcas individual lunging and breaching events in the same individuals (PDF 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karina Karenina
    • 1
  • Andrey Giljov
    • 1
  • Tatiana Ivkovich
    • 1
  • Yegor Malashichev
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Faculty of BiologySaint Petersburg State UniversitySaint PetersburgRussia
  2. 2.Laboratory of Neuroecology, Department of Ecological PhysiologyInstitute of Experimental MedicineSaint PetersburgRussia

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