Rare nursing and other interactions between seven newborn humpback whale calves and their mothers has been recorded in sweet, stunning photos and videos as part of a new study in the whales’ breeding waters off Maui.
The calves were fitted with non-invasive, yellow suction-cup tags containing cameras, acoustic recorders, depth sensors and accelerometers, in the project, conducted during 10 days in February by researchers from University of Hawaii at Manoa Marine Mammal Research Program in collaboration with Goldbogen Lab at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and the Friedlander Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In clear, pristine conditions, the cameras record “seldom seen nursing behavior (including nursing bout frequency and durations) and social interactions between individuals,” the researchers said in a statement released with some footage and photos today.
“What we are trying to understand with these new technologies is how much time the calves need to nurse from their moms to be able to get strong and big enough to make their journey back up north,” said Lars Bejder, UH marine mammal research program director.
In addition, the accelerometer data lets scientists measure the fine-scale behavior, movement and breathing patterns of the tagged whales, and the fieldwork also flew drones over the tagged whales so that their overall length, body condition and health could be calculated.
Every winter, typically from January through March, about 10,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawaii from Alaska with the main purpose of breeding, the release said.
Because they do not eat during the breeding season, the whales depend on stored energy from their Alaskan feeding season.
The research received assistance from members of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary, the Pacific Whale Foundation and the Oceanwide Science Institute, Molokai Ocean Tours, PacWhale Eco-Adventures and Rachel and John Sprague.
For more information, read Bejder’s blog on the UH MMRP website.