Baby humpback whales whisper to avoid attracting predators

by Edgar Hayes April 29, 2017, 1:24
Baby humpback whales whisper to avoid attracting predators

That, at least, is the conclusion of a new study led by Danish and Australian researchers, who tracked eight humpback whale calves and two mothers for almost 70 hours to understand how Junior signals Mama when he's hungry for some whale milk.

According to their findings - just published in the journal "Functional Ecology" - calves swimming with their mothers vocalized using faint squeaks and grunts, and nudged mothers when they were ready to nurse.

The study tagged eight humpback calves and two mothers with the suction cup devices that recorded both their sounds and movements for up to 48 hours before detaching and floating to the surface.

When the researchers retrieved the devices and played the audio, they heard for the first time baby babbling vastly different than the haunting, eerie sounds emitted by adult male humpbacks. "What's more, the sounds are very quiet, like the baby humpback is whispering so that it won't get overheard by something risky lurking nearby".

Videsen stated that they were surprised to see that even if these whales tend to sing long songs, the communication pattern between mother and calf is quite the opposite.

The data tags showed that these quiet calls usually occurred while whales were swimming, suggesting they help mother and calf keep together in the murky waters of Exmouth Gulf. As soon as calves are born, they must begin bulking up - by nursing - as quickly as possible in order to survive the long journey back with their mothers. Scientists have found calves "whisper" to their mothers to avoid being heard by predators.

Humpbacks spend their summer in the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic and migrate to tropics for mating and breeding during the winter. While in the warmer climes, calves must gain as much weight as they can before hitting the open waters on their first migration, which will cover some 5,000 miles.

"This migration is very demanding for young calves", Videsen added. They must feed and save energy to cope up with 5000 miles travel across the oceans.

"From our research, we have learned that mother-calf pairs are likely to be sensitive to increases in ship noise", said Videsen, in a statement.

There are two major humpback whale populations, one in each hemisphere. "Knowing more about their suckling will help us understand what could disrupt this critical behavior, so we can target conservation efforts more effectively".

The ocean is dark and full of terrors - including hungry orcas and horny men looking to bang your mum, if you're a baby humpback whale.

"Because mother and calf communicate in whispers, shipping noise could easily mask these quiet calls".

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