Cetacean communities and coexistence

Photo credit: Bobbie Hedges

Photo credit: Bobbie Hedges

How do whales, dolphins and porpoises all get along and share their ocean home? This question is another one scientists hope to answer through the study of cetacean ecology. Possibly they make pacts with each other and agree to go after different prey and stay in certain locations to prevent fighting over resources and bad feelings. OK maybe it’s not that simple.

Some species do seem to get along quite well. The Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals notes that “pantropical spotted and spinner dolphins are frequently found in mixed-species schools in association with yellowfin tuna.” This seems to indicate that these dolphins aren’t fighting over yellowfin tuna, at least not now anyway while there are still some left in the sea.

Other species such as the baleen whales have worked out a system to share food resources through evolution. Blue whales almost only eat krill, while humpback and fin whales eat small fish and sometimes krill if it’s around and right and sei whales almost only eat copepods. These preferences are encouraged by the type of baleen each whale has and the eating habits they have developed over time and pass on to their young. By eating different things, the largest whales are able to better share the ocean’s bounty.

If only we could learn to share better and stop taking fish from the ocean like there is no tomorrow. If you don’t believe me then make sure you see the movie End of the Line. Because the truth is we don’t need to eat so many fish, but for the whales and dolphins that’s all they have.

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