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Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) predatory flexible feeding behaviors on schooling fish

Abstract

Whale sharks are known to feed primarily on zooplankton all over the world; however, recent findings suggest that they also prey on fish using behaviors that have not been fully described. Here, we provide detailed evidence of whale sharks interacting with schools of anchovy on four occasions in Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja California, Mexico. Three of these were predatory interactions in multi-species feeding frenzies, and one was a non-predatory interaction. In predatory interactions, whale sharks exhibited two types of feeding behaviors: (1) stationary suction-feeding, a previously described behavior for whale sharks, and (2) lunge-feeding, which has not been previously described in whale sharks, but has been observed among other large filter feeders, such as rorqual whales. The whale sharks moved simultaneously around the school of anchovy, lunging simultaneously or one after another into the school, with 66% (N = 17) of these lunges occurring in the same direction. In the non-predatory interaction, whale sharks exhibited “sit-and-wait" behavior. The evidence presented here, along with previous observations, suggests that whale sharks may change their feeding strategy from suction to lunge-feeding when other predators corner schooling fish.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Joel Prieto-Villavicencio, José Arce-Smith, and Ricardo Arce-Navarro, who drove the vessel during the observations. Thanks to Ian J. Velazco-Espinoza, who was the underwater filmmaker of the PEJESAPO group. We are grateful to the Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) in Mexico, which provided funding for the monitoring project, and Pronatura Noroeste, which provided logistical support and accommodations. ANMQ and CFOV received a scholarship from CONACyT during the writing of this paper. Lynna Kiere reviewed the English. Finally, we are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers who provided very helpful comments.

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Conceived the work: MOB, ANMQ, and CFOV. Recorded the videos: ANMQ, CFOV, JAVH, and OSN. Recorded the data: ANMQ and CFOV. Analysis of videos: ANMQ and CFOV. Wrote the text: MOB and ANMQ. Revised the text: all the authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marcela Osorio-Beristain.

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Authors declared no conflict of interests.

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This research was carried out in accordance with Mexican laws and guidelines for the ethical treatment of animals in general (Animal Behavior Society 2012).

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The original online version of this article was revised due to the fourth author's last name published incorrectly and it has been corrected.

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Montero-Quintana, A.N., Ocampo-Valdez, C.F., Vázquez-Haikin, J.A. et al. Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) predatory flexible feeding behaviors on schooling fish. J Ethol 39, 399–410 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-021-00717-y

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Keywords

  • Rhincodon typus
  • Feeding strategies
  • Predation
  • Multi-species feeding frenzy
  • Lunge-feeding
  • Sit-and-wait
  • Anchovies
  • Bahia de Los Angeles