North Atlantic right whales were instrumented with suction-cup mounted, time-depth recorders (TDR) during the summers of 2000 and 2001 to examine their diving and foraging behav- ior. Simultaneous observations of temperature, salinity and the vertical distribution of their principal prey, Calanus finmarchicus stage 5 copepodites (C5), were obtained along each whale’s track with a conductivity-temperature-depth instrument (CTD) and an optical plankton counter (OPC). Right whale feeding dives were characterized by rapid descent from the surface to a particular depth between 80 and 175 m, remarkable fidelity to that depth for 5 to 14 min and then rapid ascent back to the surface. The average depth of dive was strongly and positively correlated with both the aver- age depth of peak C. finmarchicus C5 abundance and the average depth of the bottom mixed layer’s upper surface. Significantly longer surface intervals were observed for reproductively active females and their calves when compared to other individuals, indicating that this critical segment of the pop- ulation may be at increased risk of ship strikes owing to their diving behavior. Ingestion rates calcu- lated from TDR and OPC data exceeded estimated daily metabolic requirements for most of the tagged right whales; however, short deployment durations and uncertainty in metabolic rates make it impossible to judge whether individual right whales were obtaining sufficient energy to meet the metabolic costs of reproduction. Improvements in attachment durations and the development of novel methods to estimate the metabolic rates of large whales in situ are required to determine whether right whale reproduction is limited by insufficient food resources.
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