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Activity: Whale Feeding Strategies

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:

Materials

  • Table 6.4
  • Four buckets or other large containers for liquid
  • Water
  • 100 paper hole-punches
  • Four paper towels
  • Permanent marker
  • Plastic pocket combs
  • Plastic zip-top sandwich bags
  • Drinking straws
  • Styrofoam packing peanuts
  • Chopsticks
  • Towels
  • Stopwatch

Procedure

A. Prepare simulated ocean habitats.

  1. Fill the four containers with water.
     
  2. Use the permanent marker to label four paper towels with the name of each whale group: skimmer, gulper, bubble-netters, and biter.
     
  3. Sprinkle 25 hole-punches onto the water in each container. These paper hole-punches will represent whale food items such as zooplankton and small fish.

B. Simulate “skimmer” mysticete whales.

  1. Bowhead and right whales feed by skimming the ocean surface with their mouths open. They use the filter-like baleen structures in their mouths to catch food items such as small crustaceans or fish. Simulate their feeding by using the plastic pocket combs to represent baleen:
    1. Approach the first container of water with hole-punches.
    2. Dip the tip of the comb teeth into the water.
    3. Move the comb across the surface of the water, skimming hole-punches onto the comb.
    4. Stop after 15 seconds of feeding.
       
  2. Gently tap the comb onto the center of the paper towel labeled “skimmer” to dislodge any hole-punches. Reserve the labeled paper towel for later.

C. Simulate “gulper” mysticete whales.

  1. Blue, humpback, fin, and minke whales are examples of “gulper” species. They have expandable throat pouches that can hold larger volumes of seawater and prey. Simulate their feeding by using the plastic sandwich bags and pocket combs to represent gulper throat pouches and baleen, respectively:
    1. Approach the second container with water and hole-punches.
    2. Open the sandwich bag and fill it with water from the container.
    3. Seal the sandwich bag and lift it to the surface of the water.
       
  2. Slowly pour the contents of the bag through the comb and back into the container.
     
  3. Gently tap the comb onto the center of the paper towel labeled “gulper” to dislodge any hole-punches.
     
  4. Repeat steps 1–3 and stop after 15 seconds of total feeding time, including scooping and pouring.
     
  5. Reserve the labeled paper towel for later.

D. Simulate “bubble-netters” humpback whales.

  1. Some humpback whales feed cooperatively in groups by using a strategy called bubble-netting. Simulate their feeding by using the plastic pocket combs to represent their baleen and drinking straws to represent their blowholes:
    1. Approach the third container with water and hole-punches.
    2. Divide your lab group into two teams: bubble-netters and gulpers.
    3. Bubble-netters: use the drinking straws to gently blow bubbles into the water near the outer edges of the container. Continue blowing for thirty seconds.
    4. Gulpers: after the bubble-netter team has finished blowing their net-bubble, open your sandwich bags and fill them with water from the center of the container. Stop after 15 seconds of feeding.
    5. Gulpers: seal the sandwich bag and lift it to the surface of the water.
       
  2. Slowly pour the contents of each bag through a separate comb and back into the container.
     
  3. Gently tap the combs onto the center of the paper towel labeled “bubble-netters” to dislodge any hole-punches.
     
  4. Reserve the labeled paper towel for later.

E. Simulate “biter” odontocete whales.

  1. Odontocete whales do not have baleen. Instead they feed by directly biting their prey with hard, sharp teeth and strong, muscular jaws. Simulate their feeding by using pairs of chopsticks to represent their toothed jaws:
    1. Approach the fourth and final container with water and hole-punches.
    2. Add twenty styrofoam packing peanuts to the water to represent larger prey such as salmon and seals.
       
  2. Use the chopsticks to try to grasp either of the simulated food items and place them onto the paper towel labeled “biter.” Try to capture as much prey as possible but stop after 15 seconds of feeding.
     
  3. Reserve the labeled paper towel for later.

F. Compare feeding strategies used by whales.

  1. Place all four labeled paper towels next to each other and examine them closely. What observations can you make from this rough comparison?
     
  2. Count the simulated prey items on each paper towel. Record your data in Table 6.4.
     
  3. Divide your prey capture counts by the number of feeding participants in each simulation. Record your data in Table 6.4.
     
  4. Use a cloth towel to clean your table.

 

Activity Questions: 
  1. The activity simulated three different feeding strategies used by mysticete whales and one feeding strategy used by odontocete whales. Which mysticete feeding strategy appeared to work the best for you?
     
  2. Compare your findings between the gulper-feeding and the bubble-netting feeding stations. Which feeding strategy captured more prey?
     
  3. Compare your findings with those of your fellow student-scientists. Did others have similar or dissimilar results?
     
  4. During the bubble-netting simulation, one team worked as gulpers collecting food while the other team exhaled the bubble-net. Does your answer to question 1 change if you consider the lack of feeding by the bubble-net team?
     
  5. Consider the “biter” paper towel representing the prey captured by an odontocete whale such as a dolphin, sperm whale, or killer whale. Based on your results, would it be better for an odontocete to try to bite larger prey (salmon and seals) or smaller prey (small fish and zooplankton)?
     
  6. In what circumstances would bubble-net feeding be less efficient than gulping or skimming? When would bubble-netting be most efficient for all group members (of both teams, taking turns feeding and bubble-netting)?
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.