Beaked Whale Crittercam


link to National Geographic Crittercam site

Safely worn by wildlife, National Geographic Crittercams capture video, sound, and other information, offering rare views of the private lives of animals. What we learn from Crittercams helps us protect the very animals that wear them.'
'In May 2004, we successfully tagged beaked whales in the Bahamas.


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Abaco, Bahamas, May 2004

After 25 days of wind, the ocean flattened out.
A solitary Mesoplodon densirostris approached us, crossed the bow a few times and then rubbed gently against the side of the boat. Why was this rare whale being so friendly? We had long held aspirations of attaching a Crittercam tag to the back of a beaked whale and everything was in place with the animal right next to us!
The 18 foot attachment pole seemed ridiculous at the moment as she was too close to the boat. The expectations and fears that we had about tagging suddenly flashed through our heads … the moment had arrived. “Take the camera off the pole!” someone yelled.
We literally leaned over the edge of the small 18 foot boat and stuck a National Geographic Crittercam tag onto her back by hand. She had no reaction to it and the suction cup seemed to be secure for the moment. We all screamed in disbelief and joy.
The tag stayed on her for just over 10 minutes. When we heard the “blip” of the VHS antennae, we were disappointed having hoped that we might have recorded the maximum three hours. But we never could have imagined what happened in those 10 minutes and 20 seconds. She gave BIRTH!!!
It wasn't until we watched the surface footage of the deployment that we noticed a beautiful little tail fluke and partial peduncle actually presenting itself from her underside. How interesting that she approached us and was so friendly while in labor. Perhaps she was a first time mother bewildered by the whole event.

You can imagine our faces when she appeared back at the surface with a tiny newborn calf popping up spastically for breaths right next to her! After a few minutes of swimming and learning how to use its body, the calf displayed an uncoordinated little tail slap with its tiny pink fluke.
The 10 minutes of Crittercam show her contorting her body as she "bears down" with contractions, slowly moving her head up and down and then a major twist of the head to the right. The dive profile records 2 dives, approximately 20 metres each with 5 breaths in between. On her way back up from the second dive, low and behold a tiny little calf suddenly appears in the video frame at the surface above her. (Crittercam faces forward and displays the animal's “point of view”. In this case, we would have loved a camera facing backwards and on her underside!)
Need I say more? We were blessed to experience the event.
We successfully deployed another tag on a whale a few days later in a group of five Mesoplodon densirostris. Unfortunately, the animal either spun herself in a spiral or the tag slid around her body and released when it hit a cookie cutter shark scar.

Nan Hauser
26 May 2004

Images (please click on image to enlarge)

crittercam: click to enlarge
CritterCam deployment
deployment: click to enlarge
Tagging with CritterCam (note the calf's tail fluke as it is presenting underneath her). We never noticed this as she curiously approached the side of our boat!
surfacing: click to enlarge
A "point of view" from the female as she approaches the surface of the water.
newborn top left: click to enlarge

The mother's POV swimming towards the calf (left hand top corner)
first breaths: click to enlarge
The calf next to it's mother in one of it’s early uncoordinated surfacing's.
A mature male with tusks.
Tagging a male might be difficult because of all the scarring which may compromise a secure seal on the suction cup.
We assume that these scars are from battles with other males although this behaviour has never been witnessed.
Note the hole through the trailing edge of the dorsal fin on this male.



© Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, 2004-13. All photos © Nan Hauser.
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