Please select your home edition
Edition
Selden

First recording of North Pacific whale song

by NOAA Fisheries 24 Jun 15:29 UTC
An eastern North Pacific right whale, the world's most endangered great whale. V-shaped exhale is unique to right whales © NOAA Fisheries

Right whales don't sing — or do they?

Unlike some of their famously musical relatives, right whales are known to restrict their vocalizations to individual calls rather than the patterned phrasing that is singing. This has been well documented for Southern and North Atlantic right whales.

But new findings suggest that the rarest whale of them all, the eastern North Pacific right whale, is breaking into song.

"During a summer field survey in 2010, we started hearing a weird pattern of sounds," explains Jessica Crance, Marine Mammal Laboratory, NOAA Fisheries' Alaska Fisheries Science Center. "We thought it might be a right whale, but we didn't get visual confirmation. So we started going back through our long-term data from moored acoustic recorders and saw these repeating patterns of gunshot calls. I thought these patterns look like song. We found them again and again, over multiple years and locations, and they have remained remarkably consistent over eight years."

Gunshot calls are part of the right whale's known repertoire, along with upcalls, screams, and warbles. But they had never before been heard as part of a repeating pattern.

While Crance's team suspected that the songs were produced by a right whale, they had only the acoustic recordings, with no visual confirmation—until two summers ago.

"We heard these same songs during a summer survey in 2017, and were able to localize the songs to male right whales," says Crance. "We can now definitively say these are right whales, which is so exciting because this hasn't been heard yet in any other right whale population."

North Pacific right whale song recordings

  • Song Recording 1 GS2-TP (see spectrogram below)
  • Song Recording 2 GS3-PU (Listen carefully in the beginning to hear the faint growling sound and progression of calls)

New findings give rise to new questions

"Why is this population of right whales singing? Do the other populations also sing, and it just hasn't been documented yet, or is this unique to our population?" asks Crance. "Working in the very remote, harsh, and large Bering Sea, getting the answers will be very difficult. That is one of our biggest challenges—our population has fewer than 30 whales."

Crance speculates that these songs are a reproductive display. "We have direct evidence of male right whales singing, and we think this may be exclusive to males, but we have very limited data on vocalizing female right whales."

As to why North Pacific right whales sing, Crance theorizes that their extreme rarity gives them reason to sing.

"With only 30 animals, finding a mate must be difficult. Lone male right whales tend to gunshot more frequently than females. Perhaps the 2:1 male ratio in the North Pacific has led to our males singing to attract females. But we may never be able to test that or know for sure."

"Our next step will be to look at the evolution of the songs over time, and their seasonality, to determine if certain songs are produced at specific times. We also want to find out whether these songs contain individual-specific information," says Crance. "There is so much I would love to know."

Additional Resources

Related Articles

NOAA awards $2.7 million for marine debris efforts
Supporting 14 projects to address the harmful effects on wildlife and navigation safety NOAA today announced a total of $2.7 million in grants supporting 14 projects to address the harmful effects of marine debris on wildlife, navigation safety, economic activity, and ecosystem health. Posted today at 12:42 pm
New mapping reveals lost WC estuary habitat
Report highlights potential for restoration of these important habitats An unprecedented survey has revealed the loss of about 85 percent of historical tidal wetlands in California, Oregon, and Washington. The report, published today in PLOS ONE, also highlights forgotten estuary acreage that might now be targeted Posted on 24 Aug
Trained team freed an entangled humpback whale
Removing ropes that had hog-tied the whale between its mouth and tail The entangled whale was first reported just before noon Thursday, August 8, by Todd's Extreme Fishing. He stayed with the whale to monitor its location until the Makah Tribe and U.S. Coast Guard arrived to take over the watch. Posted on 17 Aug
A new coral nursery by NOAA
The nursery could help restore damaged reefs using fully formed coral colonies When a ship grounds on coral reef, the accident can severely damage the reef and scatter countless small coral fragments onto the seafloor. But these pieces of coral aren't yet dead—they can gain new life if placed into a coral nursery. Posted on 16 Aug
US, Canadian officials coordinate for right whales
Conservation and management efforts for endangered North Atlantic right whales Last week, I met with officials from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada to continue our bilateral discussions on the conservation and management of the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. Posted on 15 Aug
Monitoring Coral Reef Ecosystems
Throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago The Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center has been surveying coral reef ecosystems in the Pacific since the early 2000s. We collect data to assess how coral reefs vary over space and time. Posted on 12 Aug
Tracking a manta ray named Leo
Scientists use a satellite tag to track Leo's movements This summer, NOAA Fisheries and the Marine Megafauna Foundation collaborated on manta ray satellite-tagging expeditions in Southeast Florida. These satellite tags will continuously record location, depth, and temperature. Posted on 11 Aug
An early notification from fisherman saved a life
NOAA Fisheries received information that was vital to finding a hooked Hawaiian monk seal Early on Saturday, July 27th, the Hawaii Marine Animal Rescue received a call about a hooked monk seal. A fisherman was reeling in his line when he realized there was an endangered Hawaiian monk seal at the end of it. Posted on 10 Aug
Top 10 facts about sharks and seals
Seals and sharks in Cape Cod waters have some things in common, but other facts may surprise you. There are two similar species of seals that inhabit the Cape and Islands - gray and harbor seals. Adult gray seals can weigh between 550 and 850 pounds and are on the Cape year-round. Posted on 10 Aug
White sharks and gray seals return to Cape Cod
After decades without seeing many, Cape Codders easily find seals & sharks together in warmer months In 1975, the movie Jaws made "Cape Cod" and "shark" synonymous, even though white sharks were rare in these waters. Today gray seals are becoming equally associated with Cape Cod, although the once-resident populations were eliminated by the early 1970s. Posted on 4 Aug
Zhik 2018 Hyeres 728x90 BOTTOMVaikobi 2019 - Footer 3GJW Direct - Yacht 2019 - Footer