Beluga whales blow bubbles to express how they are feeling, according to researchers from Canisius College who examined more than 11,000 bubbling Belugas over the course of eight years in an area surrounding the Marineland of Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario, according to a news release.
"Underwater bubbling is a fairly common behavior in Beluga whales," said the study's lead researcher, Michael Noonan, who is also chair of the college's animal behavior, ecology and conservation program (ABEC). "It's an enigmatic and delightful behavior but also a very complex behavior."
That's because it seem counteractive for the air breathing animals to expel the air they depend on for survival – in order to maintain enough oxygen in their blood – while underwater. Despite all that, Beluga whales blow bubbles into one of four shape combinations: blowhole drips, blowhole bursts, blowhole streams and mouth rings, each of which signals a different mood.
In the same way a person's mood ring turns red to indicate fear, female belugas were observed blowing blowhole drips when startled. Juvenile male whales, however, were frequently observed blowing blowhole bursts, suggesting a rowdier level of play.
Blowing underwater bubbles is not a unique behavior, particularly for whales; it has also been observed in humpbacks that expel blowhole streams as a sign of aggression. Male Belugas commonly produce blowhole streams but they were more likely to expel this shaped bubbles while swimming alongside a friend. That doesn't mean it isn't still a sign of aggression. I may very well be the equivalent of human males who play fight.
On average, Beluga whales blow 58 bubbles per minute, using both their mouths and blowholes. However, there were some days where the animals produced fewer bubbles, which researchers suggest could be a result of weather or environmental variables.
"A contagious effect, in which the bubbling of one Beluga stimulates or at least facilitates a similar bubble release by another whale, could explain the occurrence of extremely high bubble days at frequencies greater than that predicted by chance," Noonan concluded.
Beluga whales are found throughout Arctic and Subarctic areas and are easily recognizable by their pure white skin and large foreheads. They are equipped with a five inch-thick layer of blubber and a tough dorsal ridge that essentially enables them to swim in freezing cold waters. Additionally, the animals are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will feed on salmon, whitefish, rainbow sole, octopus, crab and much more when given the chance.
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