Mom, Can You Hear Me? — Continuation

In the summer of 2015, we carried out a pilot project to assess the feasibility of conducting a study on communication between mother belugas and their newborns. Conclusive results bring us back to the water this week for a bold project: simultaneously listen in on belugas underwater with a hydrophone and observe them from the air using a light drone.

The objective of the project is to document the contexts in which mothers and young use contact calls and to verify whether these sounds may be masked by the noise of boats. The study is based on a discovery made by Valeria Vergara (Vancouver Aquarium). Contact calls, which are used in warning situations, are the first sounds to be made by newborns. Eventually, like their mothers, calves produce calls over a wide band of frequencies that can be heard in all types of background noise. In the first few weeks of life, however, the newborns’ calls are emitted at relatively low frequencies that are easily masked by the sound of boats.

After just five days at sea, the team is stoked. Despite the complexity of orchestrating different observation platforms, we have already managed to track a few animals.

On the sequence presented below, we track a female with her newborn. She will be joined by another female. They are swimming in a mixed herd of about thirty belugas. It is difficult if not impossible in an encounter such as this one to match a call to any one animal in particular. By maximizing the number of encounters, we plan on isolating situations in which we can pinpoint the individuals that made the vocalizations. In the background, we hear two ships passing within a kilometre.

This project is being carried out mainly in the Saguenay River between Pointe-Noire and Baie Sainte-Marguerite. It will require three to five seasons. Jointly undertaken by Valeria Vergara (Vancouver Aquarium) and Robert Michaud (GREMM) in collaboration with Nadia Ménard (Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park), the project received support from the Fondation de la faune du Québec, the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, and Earth Rangers.

To learn more:

On Whales Online (in French):
Les nouveau-nés bélugas vocalisent une heure après la naissance, et après? (1/2)
Les nouveau-nés bélugas vocalisent une heure après la naissance, et après? (2/2)

In the media:
Crying to be heard (New Scientist, may 2016)

This week, the team had 11 encounters in 22 hours with belugas. Click on the map to navigate with the Bleuvet and discover the highlights of the week!


Yogi — adopted in 1988 par Bell Canada,

and DL9018, DL9010, DL2450, DL1903 et DL0393.

The complete list of identified belugas requires meticulous efforts to match individuals, which will be undertaken after the field season.

Property of the GREMM and the St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology, the Bleuvet is a research boat dedicated to the research program on St. Lawrence belugas. Managed by GREMM scientific director Robert Michaud, the Bleuvet crew is composed of Michel Moisan, Tim Perrero and Simon Moisan.

Field Notes - 27/7/2016

Équipe du GREMM

Led by scientific director Robert Michaud, the research team of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) studies St. Lawrence beluga whales and large rorquals (humpback, blue and fin whales) at sea. The Bleuvet and the BpJAM leave the port of Tadoussac every morning to gather valuable information on the life of the whales of the St. Lawrence Estuary.

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