“Mom, can you hear me?” (ongoing)

The recent increase in mortality in St. Lawrence beluga newborns and the decline of their population coincide with increased navigation in areas frequented by females and their offspring. The project “Mom, can you hear me?” aims to characterize the contact calls between mothers and calves to better understand how sounds are masked by passing boats.

Newborns can take up to two years to successfully produce contact calls at the desired frequencies. The simplified version of the contact call made by newborns during the first weeks of their lives uses low frequencies that can easily be masked by the passage of recreational watercraft. New information validated by the research project will make it possible to re-examine the strategies designed to protect belugas and their habitat.

Study method

The first field season in 2016 took place aboard GREMM’s research vessel, the Bleuvet. A hydrophone and a drone were used to study communication and behaviour. For the second season, in 2017, a tower was erected in the heart of Baie Sainte-Marguerite, a place heavily frequented by female and young belugas. Once again, a hydrophone and a drone were used. A third season is planned for 2018, both atop the Baie Sainte-Marguerite tower and on board the Bleuvet.

A project by

Valeria Vergara, Ocean Wise and Robert Michaud, GREMM


Vancouver Aquarium and Ocean Wise, Eco Heroes, Donner Canadian Foundation, Fondation de la faune du Québec, GREMM and Memorial University of Newfoundland.


Castellote M, Mooney T A, Quakenbush L, Hobbs R, Goertz C and Gaglione E. 2014. Baseline hearing abilities and variability in wild belugas whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Journal of Experimental Biology 217:1682–1691

DFO. 2014. Status of beluga (Delphinatperus leucas) in the St. Lawrence River Estuary. DFO Can.Sci.Advis.Sec.Sci.Advis.Rep. 2013/076.

Ménard N, Michaud R, Chion C, and Turgeon S. 2014. Documentation of Maritime Traffic and Navigational Interactions with St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga (Delphinaterus leucas) in Calving Areas Between 2003 and 2012. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2014/003.
v + 24 p.

Vergara V and Barrett-Lennard L G (2008). Vocal development in a beluga calf (D. leucas).  Aquatic Mammals 34: 123–143

Vergara V, Michaud R and Barrett-Lennard LG (2010). What can captive whales tell us about their wild counterparts? Identification, usage and ontogeny of contact calls in belugas (Delphinapterus leucas). International Journal of Comparative Psychology 23: 278–309


Projects on Whales Online

“Mom, can you hear me?” Season #2 (03/08/2018)

Rescapez les bélugas avec Éco Héros (03/04/2017)

Une tour à la baie Sainte-Marguerite pour épier les bélugas

With the belugas: Week of July 25, 2016 (04/08/2016)

With the belugas: Week of July 18, 2016 (18/06/2016)

Les nouveau-nés bélugas vocalisent une heure après la naissance, et après? (1/2) (28/01/2015)

Les nouveau-nés bélugas vocalisent une heure après la naissance, et après? (2/2)


Projects in the Media

Darkwave: Underwater Languages at the Brink of Extinction. («Ideas», CBC Radio One, 08/09/2016)

The belugas of the St Lawrence: Serious Decline (CBC International Radio, 09/09/2016)

Vancouver Aquarium researcher on marine traffic and decline of belugas (Global News TV, 09/09/2016)

What’s killing Canada’s beluga whales? (Global News TV, 09/09/2016)

Vancouver Scientist leading acoustic research team to solve Beluga whale mystery (CBC News, 09/09/2016)

Drowning in sound? The sad case of the baby beluga whales (News Scientist, 01/05/2016)

Crying to be Heard (The Chicago Tribune, 01/05/2016)

Stranded baby beluga’s story casts light on whales’ situation (Times Colonist, 28/01/2016)

Call of the Baby Beluga (The Nature of things, CBC, 28/01/2016)


Dernière mise à jour: 2017