SUMMARY Large body size usually extends dive duration in air-breathing vertebrates. However, the two largest predators on earth, the blue whale ( Balaenoptera musculus ) and the fin whale ( B. physalus ), perform short dives for their size. Here, we test the hypothesis that the foraging behavior of these two species (lunge-feeding) is energetically expensive and limits their dive duration. We estimated the cost of lunge-feeding in both species using an approach that combined attaching time/depth recorders to seven blue whales and eight fin whales and comparing the collected dive information with predictions made by optimality models of dive behavior. We show that the rate at which whales recovered from a foraging dive was twice that of a non-foraging dive and that the cost of foraging relative to the cost of travel to and from the prey patch was 3.15 in blue whales (95 % CI 2.58-3.72) and 3.60 in fin whales(95 % CI 2.35-4.85). Whales foraged in small areas (<1 km 2 ) and foraging bouts lasted more than one dive, indicating that prey did not disperse and thus that prey dispersal could not account for the limited dive durations of the whales. Despite the enormous size of blue whales and fin whales, the high energetic costs of lunge-feeding confine them to short durations of submergence and to areas with dense prey aggregations. As a corollary, because of their limited foraging time under water, these whales may be particularly vulnerable to perturbations in prey abundance.