We were in Churchill in 2017 and we headed up the river in our small research zodiac. We went to Mosquito Creek and man the mosquitos are insane! You can lean on them, they formed a wall around the boat haha
Mosquito Creek is an area where according to local knowledge the whales give birth. So we were drifting with the speakers in the water and we were listening to this cacophony of sounds and suddenly we heard these persistent maternal contact calls that I had learn to recognize so well. There’s a quality to these calls when a calf is born that is much more urgent and high pitched and persistent than the regular daily contact calls that they use. We looked and right by out boat, literally an arm reach away, was a little calf. It was a newborn, you could see its fetal folds, and we looked around and could see that the adults were further away, so we figured that the mom was calling this calf, that the calf had got away in the very turbid water.
The calf went under water and the contact calls subsided and the group moved away so we assumed that they reunited for a happy ending.
What this told me was that the sounds that we hear, when you hear a species for so long, when you become familiar with their language, with their moods, that the sounds become to act as indicators of what’s going on. We might not have looked for this calf if we we weren’t sure of what was happening. This is why the ecology of these sounds is so important.
This post was adapted from a voice recording in the twenty first episode of the Whale Tales Podcast, listen here