Image via PLoS One
Albatrosses spend most of their lives on the wing, and not a whole lot is known about what they do up there day in and day out, including when it comes to feeding. But why wonder when you can strap a tiny camera onto the birds and find out for sure. Turns out, they do some surprising things while out at sea, including track whales. Scientists mounted lipstick-sized cameras to the backs of four albatrosses from Bird Island off the coast of South Georgia in the Antarctic Ocean. The study, published in PLoS One, shows the surprising results of three foraging trips.
Turns out, albatrosses don't head out and scan the ocean for fish on their own. They also use a clever technique of tracking killer whales. They eat their fill of scraps leftover from the whales' feeding. The researchers state, "Although it is still difficult to quantify how often black-browed albatrosses associate with killer whales in the open ocean, our results... suggest that these associations may occur more frequently than previously anticipated and may be a part of foraging repertoire of albatrosses."
This puts a new importance on the whales as well, since the birds use them to feed. "These prey fragments could be an important food resource for albatrosses. Scavenging on such prey fragments may be more energetically advantageous than the pursuit and capture of live prey, as such activities can require frequent take-off, landing, and prey handling which may all be energetically costly."
More than 28,725 images were captured, about a quarter of which were useless due to feathers fluttering in the way, and more were discarded because they were too dark. But those remaining illustrate not only this clever feeding strategy, but also underscore how little we still know about the interconnectedness of marine animals.
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