Bubble-blowing Belugas

March 1, 2016

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BUFFALO, NY - A new study released by Canisius Professor of Animal Behavior Michael Noonan, PhD, finds that the different shaped bubbles blown by Beluga whales may be indicative of their moods.

The eight-year study examined more than 11,000 bubbling events recorded over nearly 5,000 minutes of observation and determined that nearly all Beluga bubbles (97.2 percent) fall into one of four shape categories, and that each bubble shape is suggestive of a Beluga’s mood.

When Belugas feel playful, they release either blowhole drip or mouth ring bubbles. Blowhole burst bubbles “are a manifestation of a Beluga’s startle response,” explains Noonan. And though blowhole stream bubbles are considered a form of aggression in humpback whales, the Canisius study found that Belugas typically blow these bubbles when they are swimming amicably alongside one another.

Bubbling is a fairly common behavior among Belugas however “since the very lives of marine mammals depend on maintaining enough oxygen in their blood while underwater, the main objective of the study was to determine the reason (or reasons) Belugas blow bubbles,” Noonan adds.

Noonan collaborated on his research with Debra T. Burhans, PhD, associate professor of computer science, and Elizabeth George ’15.