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Kate Indeck, Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland, Gatton, QLD, Australia

Female-calf communication in migrating humpback whales

Thursday, November 9, 2017 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are one of the most vocally diverse of the baleen whale species. Most research on humpback whale communication has focused on the repetitive and highly stereotyped songs produced exclusively by males. Comparatively few studies have been carried out on their non-song vocalisations, or ‘social sounds’, which are produced by males, females, and calves. The long migration of humpback whales is challenging for post-calving females, as they must remain in contact with their young calves while travelling long distances. Presumably, vocal exchanges between the two play an important role in maintaining this cohesion, as acoustic communication is more efficient and reliable than visual cues in the light-limited marine environment. My research focuses on the communication behaviour of female-calf pairs while traveling southwards from tropical calving grounds to polar feeding areas along the east Australian migratory corridor. The main aims of my research are to 1) provide baseline data (i.e., repertoire size and signal parameters) on the female and calf vocal repertoires, 2) determine the importance of using vocalisations to facilitate and maintain contact while migrating, and 3) examine how social context, such as the presence of singing (male) whales or other neighbouring conspecifics, influences their vocal activity and movement behaviour. Specifically, this project will quantitatively classify and describe the social sounds produced by female-calf pairs, and assign calls to either the female or the calf; examine their vocal activity in relation to behavioural state (i.e., traveling or resting) and separation distance; and determine whether these pairs modify their calling and/or migratory movement behaviour in response to their surrounding social environment (e.g., nearby singing males). Female-calf pairs must balance their need to maintain acoustic contact with the need to avoid the attention of competitive males, which can be detrimental to the calf. Therefore, they must choose the strategy (i.e., vocal crypsis and/or behavioural avoidance) that best accounts for the prevailing social environment. The results of this research will identify how these pairs achieve this under natural ambient noise conditions. This will provide a foundation to explore the added pressure of vocalisation masking due to anthropogenic noise, and what effects it may have on successful avoidance strategies.


OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center
Guin Library Seminar Room
2030 SE Marine Science Drive
Newport
OR
Michelle Fournet
(907) 723.2752
michelle.fournet at gmail.com
Hatfield Marine Sci Ctr
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