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First ever footage of a blue whale nursing its calf captured

In a fascinating discovery, researchers have captured footage of a blue whale nursing its calf underwater. This project reveals the intimate family lives of these majestic creatures.

The footage provides new insights into blue whale behaviors and life patterns. It offers researchers a rare glimpse into the hidden world of these ocean giants.

Elusive blue whale and its nursing

The Australian-based scientists’ endeavor, starting over a decade ago in Timor-Leste, has paved the way for understanding the mysterious lives of the world’s largest and most elusive animals.

The project’s success marks a significant milestone in marine biology and conservation efforts, shedding light on aspects of blue whale behavior that have long remained obscure to researchers.

“From newborn calves and nursing mothers to amorous adults in courtship, the waters of Timor-Leste really are providing blue whale scientists with some of our first glimpses into the private lives of one of the world’s largest but most elusive animals,” stated Dr. Karen Edyvane, an Associate Professor at ANU, and a UN-recognized expert on the Arafura and Timor Seas.

Where the research unfolded

Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Australian National University (ANU) have teamed up for an exciting project.

They discovered that the deep, nearshore waters of Timor-Leste, especially the narrow Ombai-Wetar Strait along the north coast, serve as a major migration path for blue whales.

The unique geography of this region makes it perfect for studying these elusive marine giants.

“Timor-Leste’s deep, nearshore waters provide one of the most accessible and best locations for blue whale research in the world,” disclosed Edyvane.

Findings from blue whales nursing

The extensive research has yielded extraordinary findings with global implications.

“Since 2014, our program has sighted over 2,700 blue whales in Timor-Leste’s waters, monitoring their annual migration along the country’s north coast. On a global level, these numbers are truly extraordinary,” Edyvane said.

“The long-term blue whale monitoring in Timor-Leste is providing hugely valuable insights into blue whale movements and behaviors in tropical waters,” shared Dr. Elanor Bell, a researcher at the Australian Antarctic Division and Australian Government representative within the IWC’s Scientific Committee.

“Understanding of this population and the threats they face throughout their entire migratory range is fundamental for ongoing conservation and recovery of this species,” emphasized Dr. Capri Jolliffe, with over a decade’s experience studying blue whale.

“It also highlights the critical importance of collaboration between blue whale researchers in Australia and Timor-Leste.”

Community effort

The Timor-Leste’s blue whale monitoring program, known locally as “Baleia no Golfinhu iha Timor-Leste,” has prospered largely thanks to volunteer efforts, “citizen science,” and partnerships.

“Over the past decade, we’ve all shared a common purpose in finding out more about pygmy blue whale migration — to support the sustainability of our rapidly growing whale tourism industry,” shared Jose Filipe Dias Quintas, National Director for Tourism and Environment Research from the Ministry of Tourism and Environment (Timor-Leste).

The collective endeavor has grown into an extensive collaboration among researchers, whale tour operators, tourists, student volunteers, and local fishermen.

The new information will be instrumental in ensuring full protection and conservation of these animals as they pass through Timor-Leste’s waters and more widely. And for this, the initiative urgently needs cooperation and support from Australia and the wider international community.

Future prospects and sustainability

Looking forward, ongoing research and conservation efforts would continue. These initiatives aim to create a sustainable future for the blue whale population. They also focus on benefiting local communities.

By integrating technology such as satellite tracking and acoustic monitoring, it is possible to gather more precise data on blue whale movements and behaviors beyond nursing.

This data will be crucial in crafting effective conservation strategies and policies. Additionally, there is a strong emphasis on community education and involvement, ensuring that local populations are informed and engaged in the conservation process.

With continued support and collaboration, the initiative strives to safeguard blue whales’ migratory routes. Efforts also focus on protecting their habitats. These measures aim to secure a thriving future for these magnificent ocean giants.

The study is published by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The footage can be viewed on Dr Edyvane’s project website.


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