Biologists gain new insights into surface, acoustic behaviors of endangered right whales

October 25, 2018

In response to the dwindling number of North Atlantic right whales, researchers in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) have conducted a major study of the surface and acoustic behaviors of right whale mother-calf pairs.

Susan Parks, associate professor of biology, is the senior author of the study, whose findings appear in Animal Conservation (Wiley, 2018).

Parks says the publication is timely, noting the right whales' declining fertility and rising mortality, exacerbated by a breeding season without any new births--all of which raise concerns about their increased risk of extinction.

"North Atlantic right whales are prone to accidental death or injury from vessels strikes and fishing gear entanglement," says Parks, who studies the acoustic signaling of marine and terrestrial animals. "On top of this, their calving rates have dropped dramatically since 2010. We must improve the protection measures for these animals or risk their demise."

Along with colleagues from A&S and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Parks studied the behavior of 34 right whale mother-calf pairs in three areas off the coast of United States and Canada. The team collected data from 2011 to 2015, covering the period between birth and weaning.

The team discovered that the near-surface resting behavior of mother-calf pairs dominates the first five months of the calves' lives.

"These behaviors place the mother-calf pair at increased risk of a ship strike, which may partially explain why the mortality rate [among calves] is high," says Parks, adding that mariners often have trouble spotting right whales at sea.

She and her colleagues also noticed that, during the calves' early months, the mother-calf call-rates were extremely low--possibly a defense mechanism against potential enemies or hungry predators.

Lead author Dana Cusano was an assistant in the Parks Lab from 2012-16. She says that since mother-calf pairs rarely make sounds on the calving grounds, the mammals are harder to detect with traditional acoustic listening devices.

"We need visual surveys to keep track of their movements, so we can alert vessels, if we find the whales in a high-traffic area," adds Cusano, a Ph.D. candidate at The University of Queensland, Australia.

Cusano goes on to say that the risk of entanglement or a vessel strike does not decrease as the mother-calf pair becomes more active with age. "Each habitat raises new vulnerabilities and concerns. Understanding the behavioral ecology of a species is fundamental to effective conservation and management efforts," she says.
-end-
Parks and Cusano co-authored the article with two scientists from NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center: Lisa Conger, a research fishery biologist, and Sofie Van Parijs, director of the center's Passive Acoustic Research group.

Syracuse University

Related Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps
The birds have variable migration strategies.

Fishing for a theory of emergent behavior
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba quantified the collective action of small schools of fish using information theory.

How synaptic changes translate to behavior changes
Learning changes behavior by altering many connections between brain cells in a variety of ways all at the same time, according to a study of sea slugs recently published in JNeurosci.

I won't have what he's having: The brain and socially motivated behavior
Monkeys devalue rewards when they anticipate that another monkey will get them instead.

Unlocking animal behavior through motion
Using physics to study different types of animal motion, such as burrowing worms or flying flocks, can reveal how animals behave in different settings.

AI to help monitor behavior
Algorithms based on artificial intelligence do better at supporting educational and clinical decision-making, according to a new study.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable behavior
To mitigate climate change and safeguard ecosystems, we need to make drastic changes in our consumption and transport behaviors.

Predicting a protein's behavior from its appearance
Researchers at EPFL have developed a new way to predict a protein's interactions with other proteins and biomolecules, and its biochemical activity, merely by observing its surface.

Spirituality affects the behavior of mortgagers
According to Olga Miroshnichenko, a Sc.D in Economics, and a Professor at the Department of Economics and Finance, Tyumen State University, morals affect the thinking of mortgage payers and help them avoid past due payments.

Asking if behavior can be changed on climate crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations.

Read More: Behavior News and Behavior Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.