Scientists Take a Look at Maui Whale Behavior

April 19, 2020, 9:24 PM HST · Updated April 19, 9:24 PM
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UH researchers tag a humpback whale calf off of Maui (NOAA permit #21476). Photo courtesy: University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

Researchers deployed non-invasive suction-cup tags with cameras, acoustic recorders, depth sensors and accelerometers onto seven humpback whale calves over a 10-day period in February. The project is a collaboration between the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The camera recordings are providing researchers with seldom seen nursing behavior (including nursing bout frequency and durations) and social interactions between individuals.

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Researchers say the accelerometer data allows them to quantify the fine-scale behavior, movement and breathing patterns of tagged whales. The fieldwork also consisted of flying drones over the tagged whales, allowing researchers to calculate their overall length, body condition and health.

According to UH, the data collected will provide important insights into the needs of humpback mothers and calves in the Maui breeding grounds.

  • Every winter, about 10,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawai‘i, with the main purpose of breeding. The time period during which adult females and their newborn calves spend on the Hawaiian breeding grounds (typically January to March) represents a critical time.
  • No feeding occurs during the breeding season, so the whales are reliant on energy stored from the earlier feeding season in Alaska.
  • All research activities were conducted in accordance with NOAA permit #21476 and institutional animal care and use committee approval. All drone activities were conducted in accordance with FAA Part 107 regulations.

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