In February 2020, in Maui, Hawaii, rare footage was captured of a female humpback whale interacting with her calf, providing rare insight into nursing and suckling behavior.
Researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) kept tabs on the whales using non-invasive suction-cup tags. Over 10 days, seven calves were monitored with the aim of viewing whale nursing behavior.
In a press release, MMRP Director Lars Bejder said, “We can actually see what these animals are seeing and encountering and experiencing themselves. It’s quite unique and rare footage that we’re obtaining, which is allowing us to quantify these nursing and suckling bouts that are so important.”
The goal of researchers is to determine the frequency and duration of nursing behavior, and record social interactions between whales. Drones are also being utilized to document the size and body composition of 120 whales of varying ages. It’s all part of a larger project led by the MMRP and other organizations to monitor the health of humpback whales, and attempt to understand the reason behind the declining number of whale sightings in Hawaii and Alaska.