Syracuse University Magazine

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A North Atlantic right whale mother surfaces with her calf in the Bay of Fundy, Canada. 

Photo courtesy of Susan Parks; credit: Syracuse University/NEFSC, Permit #775-1875



Listen to a North Atlantic right whale do an "up call," a sound mothers make to reunite with their calves recorded by Susan Parks.

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Research Snapshot

Project: Acoustic Behavior of North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Mother-Calf Pairs

Investigator: Susan Parks

Department: Biology

Sponsor: Office of Naval Research

Amount Awarded: $677,629 (January 1, 2012-September 30, 2015)

Background: There are currently several areas of concern relating to human interactions with marine mammals. The most critical risks may result in the injury or death of individual animals, for example, through collisions with vessels, entanglement in gear, and exposure to explosions and high-intensity sounds. Being able to detect the presence of an individual animal is critical to reduce the probability of encountering these high-risk events. The North Atlantic right whale is a highly endangered species of baleen whale found off the East coast of the United States. These whales regularly traverse regions with high levels of human activity, and there is an urgent need to determine their presence in an area to prevent collisions or exposure to high-intensity sounds. Two major methods of detection are currently employed: visual surveys from aerial- or vessel-based platforms, and passive acoustic monitoring to detect vocalizations from right whales in an area. Despite these efforts, reproductively active females and their young offspring seem to be at increased risk for collisions with vessels. This research will undertake an extensive study of the surface and acoustic behavior of right whale mother-calf pairs to assess what factors increase their vulnerability to collisions with vessels and determine how best to detect these individuals. The study will span the entire development of the calf, comparing the behavior of extremely young right whales shortly after birth through their growing periods of independence prior to weaning in the late summer months. This study will address topics related to monitoring and mitigation of injury of right whales, acoustic propagation of baleen whale calls in multiple habitat areas, and basic scientific studies of the individual development of behavior in an endangered baleen whale.

Impact: The data collected in this study will improve our understanding of the behavior of this highly endangered species, aiding in its protection and conservation.



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Biology professor Susan Parks with pop-up buoys used to passively monitor marine mammals by recording their acoustic signals.



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Susan Parks prepares to attach an archival suction cup recording tag to a North Atlantic right whale in Cape Cod Bay. The tag records sounds the animal makes and hears, and also contains sensors that document its movements.



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In the water off of Florida an adult female breaches above the surface.

Photo by Susan Parks



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A whale flashes its fluke off the coast of Cape Cod.

Photo by Dana Cusano