Capstone Title

Cooperative Foraging in Cetaceans: A Literature Review

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Caryn Self-Sullivan

Second Advisor

Christopher Appelt


Cooperative foraging occurs in a diverse group of animals including spiders, birds, and numerous mammal taxa. Although extensively examined in terrestrial organisms, little research has examined cooperative foraging in marine animals due to difficulties in studying animals that spend much of their lives underwater. The purpose of this project is to examine cooperative foraging in cetaceans via literature review. This review will provide a comparison of cooperative foraging methods between taxonomic groups within the fully aquatic cetaceans. Cetaceans are the most taxonomically diverse clade of aquatic mammals including two extant suborders, Mysticeti and Odontoceti. Mysticetes are filter feeding baleen whales that feed on smaller prey (invertebrates and small fish), while odontocetes are toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises that pursue larger, more motile prey. Cooperative foraging ranges from passive cooperation to collaboration. In cetaceans this includes bubble feeding, lunge feeding, and skim feeding in mysticetes, and prey herding/carousel foraging, beach hunting, and wave washing in odontocetes. The extent of cooperation varies among individuals, populations, and species, leading to the hypothesis that cooperative foraging is a convergent trait, influenced by environmental factors rather than a shared phylogenetic history. Evidence suggests cooperative foraging may be ancestral in cetaceans rather than a convergent trait. Social structure and mode of communication are poor indicators of cooperative foraging, while foraging habitat and prey choice (size, shape, group vs. single) appear to be good indicators of cooperative foraging. These indicators can be used to make predictions about cooperative foraging in cetacean species for which the behavior has yet to be observed.

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