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Manitoba researcher helps unlock secrets of beluga language

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Feb9,2024

The coastal waters of northern Manitoba are home to the largest concentration of belugas in the world, according to researcher Marianne Marcoux.

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Manitoban researcher helps unravel the secrets of beluga language< /p>Open in full screen mode

A recent study carried out by five researchers is the first to establish a link between the contact calls of belugas and their geographical position.

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Voice synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate a spoken text from a written text.

A new study carried out partly in Manitoba reveals that the vocalization register of Canadian belugas differs depending on of their geographical position.

The research, recently published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, focused on four populations of belugas located in the St. Lawrence River, near Baffin Bay, in the Beaufort Sea and in Churchill, Manitoba.

From 2014 to 2017, acoustic data was collected during the months of July and August using hydrophones, microphones designed to go underwater.

According to the conclusions of the study, contact calls vary depending on the populations, as explained by Marianne Marcoux, scientific researcher at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.

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Researchers Marianne Marcoux, Valeria Vergara and Karyn Booy, in Churchill, during a beluga recording and catch session videos with a drone.

This type of vocalization is used by these cetaceans to communicate with each other and to stay close to their group. These calls can be used in particular by mother belugas, who are trying to find their babies, specifies Ms. Marcoux. It's as if they were saying: Where are you? I'm here!

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The researcher adds that the sounds emitted are similar to the sound of a door opening squeaks.

Aerial views of beluga populations were captured using a drone.

Contact calls are just one of many beluga vocalizations. The latter are commonly called sea canaries because of the whistling sounds they make, explains Marianne Marcoux.

The professor says Manitoba's belugas were the hardest to tell apart, noting that the province's northern coastal waters are home to the largest concentration of these animals in the world.

However, the calls of eastern belugas, which live in the St. Lawrence, are very distinct from those of the Beaufort Sea, in the far northwest of the country.

St. Lawrence belugas communicate with higher frequencies and produce longer sounds, the team of researchers noted.

It is believed that there is probably more background noise than in other places, because there is a lot of boat traffic, explains Marianne Marcoux. These belugas must therefore communicate through a register of frequencies different from those produced by the boats.

Furthermore, noise in the St. Lawrence Estuary can reduce belugas' communication range by up to 70%, which has an effect on their contact calls and echolocation signals, according to the study.

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From July to September, some 55,000 beluga whales congregate in the coastal waters of northern Manitoba. These represent a third of the world's belugas, according to Parks Canada.

Although it is accepted that whales speak different dialects, scientists are currently undecided as to why there are different vocalization styles in populations of belugas, separate groups that do not have contact between each other. them, according to Marianne Marcoux.

The environment, marine geomorphology or even genetic differences between species are among the factors that could explain language differences , believes the researcher.

By better understanding specific sounds and their purposes, we can understand whale behaviors.

A quote from Marianne Marcoux, research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba

One ​​of the dreams we have is to take a vocalization, close our eyes […] and try to determine which population it comes from , she explains. We're not quite there yet.

The meaning of several sounds, including maternal calls and those associated with hunting by echolocation, is already known, explains the researcher. However, one of the next major scientific advances would make it possible to associate each beluga sound with a behavior.

Marianne Marcoux concludes by saying that these knowledge can be used in particular to determine where the important areas to be protected for the survival of the species are located.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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