Extraordinary pictures have been released showing sperm whales feeding on fish at the ocean surface. The pictures were captured in New Zealand from a helicopter flying off the Kaikoura peninsula.
The detailed images capture the very moment when a large sperm whale takes its prey. Sperm whales normally feed on fish and squid many metres under the sea.
James Orme who took the photographs recalls how at first he saw the 1.5m fish floundering as if it had been stunned. The whale then approached from below and turned upside down opening its huge jaw before taking the fish.
"Surface feeding is very uncommon for sperm whales, but like most predators, if they find some food in an unusual place they will certainly have a go," explains sperm whale expert Dr Liz Slooten from the University of Otago in New Zealand.
The inability of the fish to swim properly before it was taken gives credence to the idea put forward by some scientists that sperm whales can stun prey using sound.
Dr Slooten, who has been studying sperm whales in Kaikoura since 1990, says they normally dive for 30 to 50 minutes and spend most of that time at a depth of several hundred metres.
Sperm whales can be identified by their tail markings and Dr Slooten thinks it may be possible to identify this whale using their catalogue of identification photos used to study the species.
Most of the information of the whales diet comes from past records of stomach contents from whaling days says Dr Slooten. By magnifying the photos even blurry images like above may identify the fish species and provide valuable research information.
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