Whales Actually Blow Different Bubbles Depending On Their Mood
Bubbles offer new insight into the inner lives of beluga whales, a recent study finds.
Beluga whales are highly intelligent marine mammals, with complex moods and inner states - and even the bubbles they blow prove it.
Michael Noonan, professor of animal behavior at Canisius College, spent eight years looking for patterns in 11,000 "bubbling events." What he found was a complex system of self-expression - through bubbles.
Because beluga whales need to come up to the surface for air, wasting their breath on bubbles underwater seemed counterintuitive, and scientists were determined to get to the bottom of the reason for these bubbles.
Scientists found four distinct types of bubbles produced by beluga whales underwater.
Blowhole drips and mouth rings, they discovered, suggest a playful mood. These bubbles are used more by females than males.
Blowhole bursts occur when a beluga feels startled or surprised. This kind of bubble was used mostly by adult females, who scientists concluded were more reactive than adult males.
Blowhole streams, used more by males, could suggest aggression, but scientists also saw male belugas using blowhole streams playfully, like when they were nicely swimming side by side.
It's a sad paradox that this study, which reveals the emotional complexity of beluga whales, depended on data from whales kept in tanks at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Canada.
Some days, the captive belugas used for the study didn't blow any bubbles at all.