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Rare Video Captures Humpback Whale Nursing Behaviors Off Maui

A new project that aims to quantify the nursing behavior of humpback whale calves in the Maui breeding grounds.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Marine Mammal Research Program, the Goldbogen Lab at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and the Friedlander Lab at University of California, Santa Cruz

Researchers deployed non-invasive suction-cup tags with cameras, acoustic recorders, depth sensors, and accelerometers onto seven humpback whale calves. The camera recordings are providing researchers with seldom seen nursing behavior (including nursing bout frequency and durations) and social interactions between individuals. 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.

The project took place over 10 days in February 2020.

The data collected will provide important insights into the needs of humpback mothers and calves in the Maui breeding grounds.

OTHER FACTS:  

  • 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 – 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. 
  • The tag deployments were made possible with the generous support of Marc Lammers from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary, Stephanie Stack and Jens Currie from the Pacific Whale Foundation and the Oceanwide Science Institute.
  • Molokai Ocean Tours, PacWhale Eco-Adventures and Rachel and John Sprague were all instrumental in helping to retrieve the tags once they were off of the whales.
  • Keep up to date through the MMRP website and social media platforms (Twitter and Instagram: @MMRP_UH, Facebook: MMRPUH, Youtube: MMRP UH) to build awareness. To help achieve its mission, the program is also accepting donations to fund research initiatives and student scholarships. All donations are tax-exempt.
  • 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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