How predators find and find and feed on prey affects their survival and shapes ocean ecosystems. The Blue Whale Observatory focuses on blue whales, the largest animal in Earth’s history, and krill which sustain blue whales and many other predators in the Monterey Bay region.  By integrating passive acoustic sensing to understand predators, active acoustic sensing to understand prey, and meteorological / oceanographic data, we seek to understand the ecosystem processes influencing predator-prey dynamics and interactions. 

Blue whales and krill represent an ideal study system. Blue whales are obligate predators of krill, and both krill swarms and blue whale foraging have strong and persistent association with geological features – the continental shelf break and submarine canyons.  Recent discoveries made in the Monterey Bay region have revealed that both blue whales and krill respond strongly to wind driven upwelling – krill by aggregating within coastal upwelling plumes, and blue whales by moving into the plumes to forage.  This dynamic response to ocean circulation strongly influences the survival and fitness of the whales that require massive amounts of food to survive, migrate long distances, and reproduce.

 Small shrimp-like crustaceans called krill are an important part of the diet of blue whales. Dense aggregations of krill occur seasonally in Monterey Bay, attracting large numbers of blue whales. Image: © 2003 MBARI

The blue whale observatory uses acoustic and other sensing techniques to acquire collocated, persistent observations of whales, krill, and physical oceanography, thereby enabling new insights into the complex dynamics of predator-prey interactions.  The first deployment began in fall-winter 2022, and the second will occur in fall-winter 2023.  While focused on blue whales and krill, the methods of observation and resulting data will also enable examination of the ecology of other species of predator and prey.



Barlow, D.R., K.C. Bierlich, W.K. Oestreich, G. Chiang, J.W. Durban, J.A. Goldbogen, D.W. Johnston, M.S. Leslie, M.J. Moore, J.P. Ryan, L.G. Torres. 2023. Shaped by their environment: Variation in blue whale morphology across three productive coastal ecosystems. Integrative Organismal Biology, 5(1).  

Oestreich, W.K., B. Abrahms, M.F. McKenna, J.A. Goldbogen, L.B. Crowder, and J.P. Ryan. 2022. Acoustic signature reveals blue whales tune life-history transitions to oceanographic conditions. Functional Ecology, 36: 882–895.

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