An underwater musical starring whales

Image of Guest Blogger

Tina-Louise Rossit,
Guest Blogger

This blog was written by guest blogger Tina-Louise Rossit. 

Understanding the lyrics of the songs of the whales.

Whale communication is exceptionally interesting. The two orders of whales, Odontoceti and Mysticeti, known as toothed whales and baleen whales respectively, have an underwater communication mechanism that uses vibrations to make echoes through the ocean. This is called echolocation. Just like bats, echolocation means that sound waves are sent out, bounce off objects and reflect back to the individual. This is how they navigate, assess their surroundings and how they forage for food. The fact that sounds travels faster underwater than in air, underwater echolocation is super efficient!

Toothed VS Baleen

Morphology of teeth and skull structure differ between the two major groups affecting the sounds produced by each. Toothed whales make clicks and squeaks, whereas baleen whales make moans and murmurs. However, all whales use very low frequencies that scientists need special equipment to increase the frequencies to analyze the sounds. Below are two sound clips of a humpback whale singing and a sperm whale clicking!

Humpback Whale Song
Sperm Whale Clicks

Feeding Communication

A group of whales is called a pod. Whales are social feeders and will get together to forage for prey hotspots. To do so, they’ll make sounds that change with different emotions and moods. Humpback Whales, for examples, eat krill and small schooling fish. One whale will announce their find to the others and a feeding frenzy will begin. Listen below to hear contact calls; “moos” and “whups” and then a feeding cry of “look guys I found the jackpot!”.

Contact Call: Moo. Credit National Park Service.

Contact Call: Whup. Credit National Park Service.

Feeding CryCredit National Park Service.Image of a Humpback Whale

Dialects

Humans aren’t the only ones with dialects! Studies dating back from the late 1960’s started to put the songs and sounds into like-groups and realized there was a pattern to the sets! Furthermore, songs that are heard in the Pacific are not heard in the Atlantic! Listen below to hear the songs of the Blue Whales from different oceans. Remember now, these recordings have been increased by 10x in order for our human ears to hear!

Pacific Blue Whale
Atlantic Blue Whale

Play Time

In the deep blue, whales lurk around emitting calls to announce their presence, to detect their surroundings, and sometimes, just because they want to. Whales produced some of the most haunting noises on earth. But if you can get past the eeriness of the sounds, you can appreciate the beauty of the songs!

Humpback Whale Song. Credit Encounters.

Humpback Whale Vocals. Credit National Park Service.

Transient Killer Whale Vocalizations. Credit National Park Service.

Noisy Threats

Cargo ships, cruise ships, and fishing boats, have all been increasing over the past decades and have tremendously increased the noise traffic of the ocean. Whales are affected with having to produce louder noises which takes energy, being confused when trying to assess their environment and having more difficulty in finding food since fish tend to run away from vibrations made from ships.

With further research on underwater acoustics and animal communication, more information will be available so everyone can listen to this underwater musical and be aware of the giants of the deep.

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