Implementing conservation measures for the North Atlantic right whale: considering the behavioral ontogeny of mother-calf pairs

D. A. Cusano, L. A. Conger, S. M. Van Parijs, S. E. Parks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Understanding the behavioral ecology of a species is fundamental to effective conservation and management efforts. This study quantifies the behavioral ontogeny of North Atlantic right whale mother-calf pairs from birth to weaning spanning three critical habitat areas off the eastern coast of the United States and Canada. Data from 55 focal follows of 34 mother-calf pairs were collected from 2011 to 2015. Resting behaviors dominated the activity budgets for both mother and calf during the first 5 months, putting them at increased risk of vessel collisions. There was an increase in the proportion of active behaviors (travel, foraging, social activity) in both mother and calf as the calf matured. Importantly, the type of active behaviors, in particular surface skim feeding and surface active social behavior, meant that the risk of vessel collision to the pair did not decrease as the calf matured. Mother-calf right whale pairs showed very low calling rates on the calving grounds, suggesting that passive acoustic monitoring may not be an effective mitigation tool during the early months. However, calling rates increase once the pair leave the calving areas with both calf age and activity levels increasing, at which point passive acoustic monitoring becomes valuable. Protective measures need to take these rapid developmental changes throughout calf growth into account to improve the efficacy of protection measures for the endangered North Atlantic right whale and other species where behavioral ecology changes rapidly during maturation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)228-237
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Conservation
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • North Atlantic right whale
  • activity budget
  • behavioral ontogeny
  • call rate
  • marine mammal
  • passive acoustic monitoring
  • vessel collision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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