Body size and feeding mode are two fundamental characteristics that determine foraging performance and ecological niche. As the smallest obligate lunge filter feeders, minke whales represent an ideal system for studying the physical and energetic limits of filter feeding in endotherms. We used multi-sensor suction cup tags to quantify the feeding performance of Antarctic minke whales. Foraging dives around and beneath sea ice contained up to 24 lunges per dive, the highest feeding rates for any lunge-feeding whale. Their small size allows minke whales access to krill in sea-ice environments not easily accessible to larger baleen whales. Furthermore, their ability to filter feed provides an advantage over other smaller sympatric krill predators such as penguins and seals that feed on individual prey. The unique combination of body size, feeding mechanism and sea-ice habitat of Antarctic minke whales defines a previously undocumented energetic niche that is unique among aquatic vertebrates.
A.S.F., D.P.N., A.J.R., D.W.J., and N.G. conceived of, designed, and conducted the experimental research. A.S.F., and J.A.G. performed analyses and interpretation of the findings being published. All authors contributed to the drafting and revising of the article.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Support for this research was provided by a National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs RAPID award to A.S.F. 
- © 2014. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd