Sound is such an important aspect of our lives. It can bring back memories, evoke certain emotions, and help put us to sleep. We live in a world comprised of noises and sounds.
Now, imagine if you were a mammal living in the water where the cacophony of noise you experience came from boats and sonar? How would you be able to communicate with one another through all that noise? We were delighted to have Dr. Valeria Vergara from the Vancouver Aquarium join us at CreativeMornings/Vancouver to discuss her study of sounds and the difficulties that arise while doing so.
Studying animals has been in Dr. Vergara’s blood ever since a child as her first word was ‘bug’ (bicho in Spanish). Fascinated by mammals, Dr. Vergara had the privilege of studying the newest beluga calf at the Vancouver Aquarium and how their sounds develop.
During her research, Dr. Vergara was able to put together a repertoire of sounds that correlate to specific behavioural states such as playing, aggression, and relaxation. She also was able to study groups where calves were present and ones where the control group were comprised of only males. Much like humans, a newborn beluga calf isn’t born with the repertoire of sounds—they learn the repertoire through a version of babbling. Over the course of a year, the beluga calf learns the sounds through interaction with their social group, especially their mother.
As we live with noise, so do marine mammals under the sea. With the world expanding so quickly, boat traffic has increased, disrupting the communication abilities of marine mammals on a deadly scale. Mammals have been lost as they weren’t able to have their contact calls answered, stranding many of them from the group. There are instances where marine mammals have experienced ‘diver’s bends’ as a result of the noise and surfacing too quickly. This occurs all too often and mostly because sound transmits so much more efficiently in water than through the air. But what can be done about all this?
Watch Dr. Valeria Vergara’s full talk below:
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