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Beluga Research

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What Are The “Sea
Canaries” Saying?

Belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) were called “sea canaries” by early whalers for the different sounds they make, including highly variable whistles and clicks. As part of her PhD thesis, researcher Dr. Valeria Vergara recorded the belugas at the Vancouver Aquarium and deciphered their vocalizations. She monitored calf vocal development and discovered that like human babies, belugas have to learn to make different calls. Overall, Dr. Vergara identified and classified 28 distinct call types during her research, with a significant type being the “contact call” – the communication between a mother and her calf.

Beluga
Beluga

Aquarium Research
Continues In The Wild

Researching belugas in the Arctic Ocean is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. The Vancouver Aquarium, on the other hand, provides a place where researchers can work in a steady environment with captive whales, allowing them to study challenging topics like behaviour in greater detail. It’s also a starting place for researchers who can then continue their work in the wild. Dr. Vergara is taking what she learned about beluga vocalizations at the Aquarium and applying it to the belugas in Cunningham Inlet, Nunavut to find out how boat noise affects the ability of beluga moms and calves to call to each other. This is especially important in light of the impending increase of shipping traffic in the North. 

Meta Research

Acoustic transmitters, commonly used to track fish, give researchers an idea of what’s happening beneath the waves. They receive a signal every time a tagged animal passes by a fixed acoustic receiver. Since the researchers know where the receivers are, they get a better sense of where these animals travel. What’s not known is how the acoustic “pings” that these tags produce influence nearby animals that have sensitive hearing (like marine mammals). Is the sound like a dinner bell, attracting potential predators? Or is it like a warning, repelling skittish animals?  The belugas, along with the Pacific white-sided dolphins and harbour porpoises at the Aquarium, are part of a research study to test their hearing range and ability to detect acoustic tags.

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beluga Belugas in the wild. Photo: John Ford

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Mammal Research

Your donation to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre will help fund important research. Research will lead to a better understanding of marine mammals and the conservation measures necessary to protect them.

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Interested in learning more about how cetaceans at the Aquarium are contributing to research? View a list of our publications

 
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Did You Know?

Did You Know?

97 percent of all animals on Earth are invertebrates. 
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