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The Effects of Anthropogenic Noise on Communications between Humpback Whale Mother-Calf Pairs

Principal Investigator: Whitlow Au

Graduate Student: Jessica Chen

Humpback whales in Hawaiʻi are a major attraction to whale watching tours. Although humpback whales have been recovering well, all whales and dolphins are increasingly threatened by anthropogenic noise in the oceans. Few studies have examined the sounds made by baleen whale mothers and calves. We are studying the communication sounds made by humpback whale mothers and calves by using suction cup tags and a towed array. The tags continuously record sound, depth, and heading of the animal. These will record calls made by mothers and calves that have rarely been recorded, allowing for characterization of calls such as source level and frequency of vocalizations. Data from the tags and array, in conjunction with behavioral observations, allow us to learn about the sounds used by humpback mothers and calves to communicate with each other and determine if certain behaviors are correlated with particular sounds. In addition, boat noise recorded by tags and arrays near the whales will provide more information on the possible effects of boat noise on the whales. The levels of noise that can disrupt communications between humpback mothers and calves can be estimated. This allows management agencies to protect humpback whales better so that they can continue to be an inspiring ambassador species for education and protection of our coastal and ocean communities.