Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) migrate from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic Ocean to lower latitude coastal waters to breed and nurse their calves. While at the nursing grounds the mother and calf pairs generally remain very close to the coast, presumably to avoid predation and attention from males. For the mothers there is a large energetic investment associated with reproduction and raising a calf. While she is at the breeding ground the mother does not feed, and she and her calf both live off of her energy stores. It is therefore extremely important that the mother and calf are able to keep contact in order to assure survival and a healthy development of the calf. But little is known of how the mother and calf communicate and how the suckling is mediated, as well as what might have a negative effect on this communication.
My master´s project will be focusing on the acoustic communication between mother and calf in relation to nursing behavior and suckling, and whether the communication related to suckling is vocal or tactile. This will be investigated from data collected with DTAGs that were deployed on southern right whale mothers at their nursing ground in Flinders Bay, Western Australia during July-August 2016. The tags provide acoustic information as well as information of the movements of the mother, which will enable me to investigate how the mother and calf communicate acoustically, as well as provide insight into suckling rates and whether acoustic or mechanical cues are used to mediate suckling, and finally, how nursing behavior could potentially be affected by an increase in human activities in the environment.