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VALERIA VERGARA

Marine Mammal Research Scientist
Co-Director of the Cetacean Conservation Research Program at Raincoast Foundation

Dr. Valeria Vergara is a leading expert in beluga whale bioacoustics.  For the better part of the last two decades, she has devoted much of her time to studying the communication system of beluga whales and the impacts of underwater noise on their ability to communicate effectively.  Her beluga studies have taken her to the Nelson and Churchill River Estuaries (Hudson Bay), Cunningham Inlet (Canadian High Arctic), and the St Lawrence Estuary (Quebec).  Some of her findings include the discovery that belugas use contact calls for group cohesion and mother-calf contact, critical in an underwater environment where animals cannot rely on vision, that some of these contact calls may signal individual identity, and that newborn belugas must learn their calls, much like human toddlers, initially producing underdeveloped calls that are particularly vulnerable to masking by underwater noise.

 

In addition to her beluga studies, Valeria has participated in a diverse array of cetacean field studies, including humpback whales in Newfoundland, killer whales in Argentina, Alaska and British Columbia, Guiana dolphins in Colombia, and narwhals in the Nunavut Arctic.

 

Valeria currently co-directs the Cetacean Conservation Research Program at Raincoast Foundation and is an adjunct professor at the University of Windsor. She is actively involved in initiatives to reduce underwater vessel noise pollution impacts in habitats of at-risk marine species. Her work has been featured in various documentaries, magazines and newspapers including National Geographic, The Nature of Things, New Scientist, The Globe and Mail, and CBC Radio.