Birds and mammals off the northern coast of Argentina: first report of an association between birds and a feeding Pygmy Right Whale Caprea marginata
Keywords:interspecies interaction, foraging ecology, South America, cooperation, behavioural studies
When the icebreaker Oden passed between 39°36'S, 57°46'W and 39°59'S, 58°11'W on 20 November 2007, an extraordinary observation was made. A feeding Pygmy Right Whale Caprea marginata, a species rarely seen, was attended by eight Grey Phalaropes Phalaropus fulicarius, two Slender-billed Prions Pachyptila belcheri, and four Wilson’s Storm Petrels Oceanites oceanicus. The birds returned to feed around the head of the whale every time it surfaced, presumably copepod plankton straining out between the baleen. The site is off Rio de la Plata estuary where nutrient rich freshwater meets cold water of the Malvinas (Falkland) Current, creating a hotspot with high levels of plankton food. The conditions were extraordinarily favourable for observation with a calm sea, no wind and only a very weak swell. Six multispecies feeding groups were seen with a total of 42 species of birds, eleven species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and three species of seals. Dusky Dolphins Lagenorhynchus obscurus and Great Shearwaters Puffinus gravis were predominant in the groups.
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