University of Hawaii researchers capture video of humpback whales nursing

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UH researchers tag a humpback whale calf off of Maui (NOAA permit #21476)

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Marine Mammal Research have video of humpback whale calves nursing in the Maui breeding grounds.

The project took place over 10 days in February 2020.

They used suction-cup tags with cameras, acoustic recorders, depth sensors and accelerometers to follow seven humpback whale calves.

Video shows 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 is a collaboration between the University of Hawaii 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.

Every winter, about 10,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawaii, 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 assisted in getting the tags once they were off of the whales.

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