Nature & Environment

Beluga Bubbles Reveal How These Whales are Feeling

Catherine Griffin
First Posted: Dec 07, 2015 04:02 PM EST
NOAA

Belugas may actually blow bubbles based on their mood. A new study reveals why beluga whales blow bubbles underwater and how the shape of the bubbles may indicate their feelings.

"Underwater bubbling is a fairly common behavior in beluga whales," said Michael Noonan, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It's an enigmatic and delightful behavior but also a very complex behavior."

Making bubbles underwater for marine mammals is counterintuitive. This is because the very lives of these marine mammals depend on maintaining enough oxygen in their blood while underwater. That's why the researchers decided to take a closer look at this behavior to find out why these mammals did it.

The bubbles were classified into four source-shaped combinations. There were blowhole drips, blowhole bursts, blowhole streams and mouth rings. The researchers then looked at when the belugas made these types of bubbles.

It turns out that blowhole drips and mouth rings are two bubble types that are primarily playful in nature. These two bubble types are produced more often by females than males.

Blowhole bursts, in contrast, seem to be the result of a beluga's startle response. It's most commonly produced by adult females, as well. However, they're more commonly produced by juvenile males than juvenile females. This suggests that juvenile males have a rowdier nature of play than juvenile females.

Blowhole streams were most commonly used by males, and may indicate a form of aggression. However, overt aggression was rarely observed. In fact, most blowhole streams were produced when two whales were parallel swimming in an amicable fashion.

The findings reveal a bit more about the behavior of these animals.

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