Antecedent description and depiction of the recently described cetacean behaviour of trap/tread-water feeding inferred from a nineteenth-century sighting of a ‘sea monster’ in the Gulf of Suez, Egypt

Submitted: 4 December 2023
Accepted: 28 February 2024
Published: 17 April 2024
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PDF: 107
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In 2017 and 2018, two groups of biologists published papers in which they independently described what was referred to as a ‘novel’ or ‘new’ feeding behaviour for cetaceans. Called ‘trap’ or ‘tread-water’ feeding, the behaviour was of interest as it was the first time that passive or stationary in contrast to lunge, and vertical as opposed to horizontal position, feeding had been observed by whales. A subsequent historical ecology paper suggested that the recently described behaviour had in fact been previously observed and documented by illustrators and writers in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Because yesterday’s ‘sea monsters’ are today’s megafauna, recounted sightings of the former can provide early insight into whale behaviour. One such example is an 19th century sighting of a ‘sea monster’ in the Gulf of Suez, whose description and illustration are nearly identical to modern scientific reporting of whales engaged in trap/tread-water feeding. Such concordance is further evidence in support of a historical precedence with respect to observing and documenting this behaviour.

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