Flatulent whales caught in the act

Scientists have photographed a giant gas bubble emanating from a whale, suggesting that flatulence is just as common for ocean mammals as it is for humans and many other terrestrial animals.

The picture, released last week by scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) in Tasmania, was taken by the captain of a U.S. research ship the Nathaniel B. Palmer, while on expedition between Marguerite Bay and Palmer Station, Antarctica.

“The picture is of an Antarctic minke whale taken from the bow of a ship,” said AAD principal research scientist Dr Nick Gales. “The white bits in the photo are pieces of ice-floe, the stream of pinky colour behind the whale is a faecal plume – a.k.a. “poo” – the large circle in the water is indeed the physical eruption of the whale’s flatulence.”

He and his colleagues are working to determine what it is that higher marine predators eat, and where they go to eat it. Instead of resorting to killing whales, the Australian Antarctic Division scientists have developed a method that allows them to collect whale faeces and study its DNA to figure out what the whale recently consumed.

The DNA work is linked to whale protection, since countries such as Norway, Iceland, and Japan have argued that whale numbers should be reduced to stabilise commercial fishing stocks.

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