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Baleen whale's ability to defend themselves?
Topic Started: Feb 16 2017, 12:42 PM (120 Views)
M4A2E4
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Heterotrophic Organism
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So just earlier today I got a hold of a blu-ray copy of BBC's series "The Hunt". Honestly its probably their finest work so far.... though I still haven't seen Planet Earth II.

Anyway, one of the scenes in the first episode involved a mother humpback whale attempting to defend her calf against a pod of orcas.

Previously I had thought that large whales like this would try to swing their tails vertically and use them as flat bludgeons to deal heavy blows, but the footage from the program and Attenborough's narration indicated that the humpbacks use their tails in a horizontal slicing motion that, supposedly, could deal deep gouging wounds to the orcas.

Attenborough additionally stated that the humpbacks can use their long, barnacle covered pectoral fins in a slicing motion to deal slashing injuries. This got further emphasized when two male humpbacks arrived to escort the female and the orcas seemed rather fearful to come close to the large males in a group like that.

My question is... how much damage can flukes and pectoral fins actually do like that? I know there's an account of a bowhead whale killing an orca with its fluke, but it was not clarified if it was dealt with a flat, horizontal broad-side blow with its fluke or if it was done with a horizontal sheering motion.

I guess horizontal could make sense in that there's less drag to hinder/slow down the strike... but are pectoral fins and flukes really THAT strong? Or is basically everything that strong and lethal when everything is 5-40 tons?
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Taipan
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Good topic. Many think only BullSperm Whales can defend themselves. However, this paper discusses strategies employed by different Baleen species of Whale and is a good starting point:

Journal Reference:
JOHN K. B. FORD and RANDALL R. REEVES Fight or flight: antipredator strategies of baleen whales Mammal Review Volume 38, Issue 1, pages 50–86, January 2008

ABSTRACT
1 The significance of killer whale Orcinus orca predation on baleen whales (Mysticeti) has been a topic of considerable discussion and debate in recent years. Discourse has been constrained by poor understanding of predator-prey dynamics, including the relative vulnerability of different mysticete species and age classes to killer whales and how these prey animals avoid predation. Here we provide an overview and analysis of predatory interactions between killer whales and mysticetes, with an emphasis on patterns of antipredator responses.
2 Responses of baleen whales to predatory advances and attacks by killer whales appear to fall into two distinct categories, which we term the fight and flight strategies. The fight strategy consists of active physical defence, including self-defence by single individuals, defence of calves by their mothers and coordinated defence by groups of whales. It is documented for five mysticetes: southern right whale Eubalaena australis, North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis, bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus, humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae and grey whale Eschrichtius robustus. The flight strategy consists of rapid (20–40 km/h) directional swimming away from killer whales and, if overtaken and attacked, individuals do little to defend themselves. This strategy is documented for six species in the genus Balaenoptera.
3 Many aspects of the life history, behaviour and morphology of mysticetes are consistent with their antipredator strategy, and we propose that evolution of these traits has been shaped by selection for reduced predation. Fight species tend to have robust body shapes and are slow but relatively manoeuvrable swimmers. They often calve or migrate in coastal areas where proximity to shallow water provides refuge and an advantage in defence. Most fight species have either callosities (rough and hardened patches of skin) or encrustations of barnacles on their bodies, which may serve (either primarily or secondarily) as weapons or armour for defence. Flight species have streamlined body shapes for high-speed swimming and they can sustain speeds necessary to outrun pursuing killer whales (>15–20 km/h). These species tend to favour pelagic habitats and calving grounds where prolonged escape sprints from killer whales are possible.
4 The rarity of observed successful attacks by killer whales on baleen whales, especially adults, may be an indication of the effectiveness of these antipredator strategies. Baleen whales likely offer low profitability to killer whales, relative to some other marine mammal prey. High-speed pursuit of flight species has a high energetic cost and a low probability of success while attacks on fight species can involve prolonged handling times and a risk of serious injury.


http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2907.2008.00118.x/abstract;jsessionid

I will add some accounts for different species later!


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slothmaster76
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Baleen whales have excessive amounts of stamina and are quite fast as well. For example, the blue whale can travel at a speed of more than 20 miles an hour. They also have a considerable size adavntage on all of their natural predators (shark and killer whales), and sometimes travel in groups. Baleen whales are also quite muscular and have thick fleshy fins.
Edited by slothmaster76, Feb 17 2017, 03:41 PM.
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