An international team of researchers has captured the footage of a rare white southern right whale calf swimming off the coast of Western Australia. Researchers from the Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit (MUCRU) and from Aarhus University in Denmark recorded the video in August as part of their mission to unlock the secrets surrounding whales.
The research team used suction cup tags and drones to study the whales’ fine-scale movements, acoustic communications, ambient noise, calf suckling rates and body conditions. The team aims to gather insights into the animals’ breeding and calving behaviors, as well as how human activities affect them.
“Drones are allowing us to non-invasively measure the size and body condition of free living southern right whales, which in turn allows us to investigate important aspects of their health and reproduction, including the growth rate of calves in relation to the condition of their mothers,” says Murdoch University’s Fredrik Christiansen.
The researchers have to approach the whales slowly in a small vessel. Using poles, they attached acoustic recording tags (DTAGs) onto the seven whales.
The DTAGS were attached for up to 24 hours. These devices provided the team with information about the animals’ vocal behaviors, calf suckling rates as well as their movements (depth, pitch and roll of swimming behavior) in three dimensions and the acoustic environment at 800 samples per second.
The device also has a VHF (Very High Frequency) transmitter to follow the tagged whale whenever it surfaces so the researchers can retrieve the DTAGS. The researchers designed the tags with a predetermined time of release through a programmable release mechanism.
All of their findings during their research will help management agencies, both at federal and state levels, in creating and improving techniques to conserve the rare southern right whales. The conservation strategies would be crucial especially in places where there have been proposals of coastal development and increasing human activity.