Huge mouthfuls make for a 'whale' of a diet

When giant blue whales lunge deep in the ocean and open their chompers wide they can swallow enough fish to feed more than 200 people - and possibly get a food coma, scientists have discovered.

Blue whales, believed to be the largest mammals on Earth, feed mainly on tiny fish called krill. Each time they dive for food, the effort lasts between three and 15 minutes.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia, Canada, wondered why the whales didn't dive for longer periods, even though they could, given the huge oxygen supplies they carry in their blood and muscles.

Turns out, maybe they were just succumbing to that lethargy of over-eaters: food coma.

After calculating how many fish were gobbled up in each bite, researchers found they were taking in anywhere from 34,776 kilojoules (8,306 calories) to 1,912,680 kilojoules (456,835 calories).

The higher count could feed more than 228 people on a regimen of 2,000 calories per day, and the whales were only expending 3,226 kilojoules (770 calories) with each lunge.

Researcher Bob Shadwick admitted he was befuddled by the huge calorie counts.

"We went over the numbers a lot," he said. "The key to this is the size factor, because they can engulf such a large volume with so much food in it that it really pays off."

The research appears in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

ksh/jk

 

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