About This Project

My goal with this project is to understand cooperation in foraging strategies of humpback whales in several different populations. I plan to study bubble-net feeding, a unique strategy of foraging that groups as small as one and large as 20 individuals participate in to maximize their energy gain. This project should increase our understanding of how humpback whales work together, and how they utilize their environment, so that we can minimize anthropogenic impacts in these areas.

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What is the context of this research?

Cooperation is seen in all different species of terrestrial birds and mammals, but has never been definitively shown in baleen whales. If funded, I will be able to investigate the nature of coordinated foraging in humpback whales in an effort to show that these species cooperate to maximize their feeding efficiency in multiple populations.

What is the significance of this project?

Humpbacks form large groups to forage on several different species of prey. They also have shown the capability for social learning in several foraging areas. Learning more about these whales and what drives the formation of different sized groups can provide evidence of the adaptability of these species to changing prey availability. It can also indicate the importance of social interactions to facilitate the learning needed to adapt to changing conditions.

What are the goals of the project?

The goals of this project are to acquire more data from a population of humpbacks in order to compare their foraging strategies and group interactions with other populations of humpbacks throughout the world.


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I currently have limited data from humpbacks in Alaska. We lack the necessary data to complete a thorough analysis of their bubble-net feeding strategies. This data is essential for determining if bubble-net foraging is a cooperative behavior in Alaska and for comparing the feeding techniques between populations. If funded, I will be able to travel to Alaska and charter a vessel to tag at least three more bubble-net feeding whales. I currently have tagging equipment available for this project, so chartering a boat is the most important expense to tag feeding whales in this population.

Endorsed by

For the past three years, Natalie has been part of my team investigating the underwater behavior of humpback whales in and around the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Her drive, creativity and attention to detail have resulted in her being assigned the pleasurable, but difficult task of using our data to investigate cooperative feeding and the adaptive value of group foraging in this intriguing species. Comparing similarities and differences among populations is an extremely powerful tool and she needs your help!
In certain environments and under certain conditions, humpback whales clearly feed simultaneously in large aggregations. But why? Do they benefit mutually from this strategy? Or are they competing for a finite resource? Natalie is in a unique position to look at answers to these questions, tackling data sets from the far north, the far south, the east coast and the west coast. I'm very excited to see what she finds!

Meet the Team

Natalie Mastick
Natalie Mastick
Graduate Research Assistant


Oregon State University
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Natalie Mastick

I grew up in Northern California, raised by a nurse practitioner and a landscape architect that instilled in me both a fascination for science and a love of nature at an early age. I have loved marine mammals since my first trips to the coast. I had little interest in captive animals beyond the excitement of seeing dolphins and killer whales up close; it was the way those marine mammals worked in their natural habitats that made me wonder and inspired me to ask questions.

I never thought I would work with whales, but I have become particularly fascinated humpback whales because they are so unique among normally solitary baleen whales. Baleen whales are nothing like other cetaceans--they don't form matrilineal groups, cliques, or male-male pairs like some dolphins and killer whales. Yet humpbacks have learned to work together despite their relatively solitary nature to exploit their prey and master their environment. If you think about it, bubble-net feeding is an incredible behavior. Somehow these whales learned to blow bubbles not just for exhalation but to manipulate their prey. And then they learned to coordinate that behavior so that more whales could benefit. I began this research on group foraging in humpback whales as an undergraduate and for every new thing I learn, more research questions pop up. I am so amazed by these whales and inspired by their behaviors that I am planning on pursuing a PhD to research social learning and foraging in humpbacks.

Project Backers

  • 41Backers
  • 70%Funded
  • $2,647Total Donations
  • $64.56Average Donation
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