homepage logo

Rare video captures humpback whale nursing behaviors in UH Manoa research

By Staff | Apr 30, 2020

A humpback whale and calf with suction cup tag (NOAA Permit #21476).

HONOLULU – An exciting new research project aims to quantify the nursing behavior of humpback whale calves in the Maui breeding grounds.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Hawaii at Manoa Marine Mammal Research Program, the Goldbogen Lab at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and the Friedlander Lab at University of California, Santa Cruz.

UH Manoa Marine Mammal Research Program Director Lars Bejder and PhD candidates Martin van Aswegen and Will Gough led the project.

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.

A humpback whale nurses her calf (NOAA Permit #21476).

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 ten days in February.

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

Every winter, about 10,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawaii, with the main purpose of breeding.

University of Hawaii researchers tag a humpback whale calf off of Maui (NOAA Permit #21476).

The time period during which adult females and their newborn calves spend on the Hawaiian breeding grounds (typically January to 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 National Marine Sanctuary, Stephanie Stack and Jens Currie from 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 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 National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Permit #21476 and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Approval.