Researchers at the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive in Montpelier have shown that humpback whales have relatively well-developed olfactory structures that help them identify the specific odours produced by planktonic prey such as krill in the vast space of the oceans. They can also detect dimethyl sulphide (a chemical released in areas of high marine productivity).

The researchers, led by Aurélie Célérier, obtained their result thanks to 56 behavioural response experiments with the whales using two food-related chemical stimuli, krill extract and DMS in their breeding and feeding grounds. The whales approached the stimulus area and lingered longer in the trial zone during the krill trials compared to control ones, an observation that suggests that they were attracted to the chemical source and spent time exploring its surroundings, probably in search of prey, say the researchers.

Reference: Bouchard B, Barnagaud J-Y, Poupard M, Glotin H, Gauffier P, Torres Ortiz S, et al. Behavioural responses of humpback whales to food-related chemical stimuliPLoS ONE 14(2): e0212515. pone.0212515


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