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Allometric scaling of morphology and engulfment capacity in rorqual whales

visual explanation of engulfment model
Sep 11 2018

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Shirel R. Kahane‐Rapport,  Jeremy A. Goldbogen

Body length is one of the most important factors that influence organismal function and ecological niche. Although larger animals tend to have a suite of physiological advantages, such as lower mass‐specific metabolic rates and lower costs of transport, they may also experience significant limitations to unsteady locomotor performance or maneuverability because of the relative scaling of control surface areas and body mass. Rorqual whales are the largest of all animals and thus represent a unique study system for understanding how animals function at the extreme of body mass. Rorquals are characterized by an engulfment‐filtration foraging strategy facilitated by a complex set of morphological adaptations. We studied the scaling of key morphological structures related to locomotion and feeding in six rorqual species in a comparative framework. Our analyses show that most rorqual species exhibit positive allometry of both the control surfaces and body length, but the large scaling differences between these parameters suggest that larger rorquals will predictably suffer from decreased maneuverability and unsteady locomotor performance. However, we found that the dimensions of the engulfment apparatus also exhibit positive allometry, and thus engulfment capacity was relatively greater in larger rorquals. We posit that the allometric growth in the engulfment apparatus may be an adaptation that ameliorates the detrimental effects of large size on maneuverability. Our analyses also reveal significant differences in the scaling of mass‐specific engulfment capacity among rorqual species that may reflect the evolution of unique foraging behaviors and the exploitation of divergent ecological niches.