Groundbreaking Research Sheds Light on Belugas
At the Vancouver Aquarium, our commitment to conservation, research and education extends far beyond the west coast. As a leading marine science centre, we have a responsibility to protect vulnerable aquatic ecosystems that extend far beyond our own backyard.
This year, we turned our attention to Canada’s North and places like Cunningham Inlet in Nunavut. It’s here that Aquarium research associate Dr. Valeria Vergara has been conducting groundbreaking research on the communication systems of beluga whales. In 2015 she returned for the second time to establish baseline data on contact calls between mothers and calves. Building on work she began at the Aquarium with mother-daughter belugas Aurora and Qila, Vergara was able to identify the lower-frequency calls typical of very young calves. Like human children, beluga babies have a limited communication range that increases as they grow.
Vergara’s findings shed vital insight on an intensely social species that depends on sound to keep track of one another in dark Arctic waters. It also raises important questions about the impact of increased noise pollution on belugas as climate change opens the Arctic to shipping, tourism, industry and other human activity. Vergara’s research could help determine whether noise pollution is one factor contributing to declining beluga populations in Quebec’s busy Gulf of St. Lawrence, where she plans to conduct similar research this year.
As human activity encroaches on more wild, once-remote habitat, it is crucial we continue to learn about vulnerable aquatic life, whether near or far.