Whale Songs, Earwax and Conversation

whale songs
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)


Whales change their tune and pick new songs every few years, according to the Science Magazine news feed.  At least, humpback whales do, according to a team of Australian and British scientists. Whale populations tend to have their own songs, which change gradually over the years.

But the researchers, studying separate humpback populations from the east and west coasts of Australia found that the eastern groups tended to pick up new songs from the western group during migrations and at shared feeding grounds. Eventually, the songs spread throughout the South Pacific. Science posted a recording of snippets of evolving whale songs on YouTube. The researchers published their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

But Also, Whale Songs Are Affected By Man-Made Noise

A study of humpback whales by Japanese researchers found that humpbacks become inhibited in their singing when confronted with noise from passing ships, according to a study reported in ScienceDaily. While using underwater recorders to capture whale songs, the scientists found that as a ship passed within 1,200 meters, the whales tended to reduce or even cease singing, resuming only after about 30 minutes. Since only male humpbacks sing, it’s not clear how females and calves react to ships’ noise.  The researchers published their finding the online journal PLOS ONE.

“Watching Whales from Space”

Improved satellite imaging capabilities are making it easier to track and count whales in remote ocean areas around the world. High-resolution imaging that can now identify fins and flukes has enabled British Antarctic Survey scientists to identify and count different species of whales in four locations. They include humpback whales off Hawaii, southern right whales off Argentina, fin whales in the Pelagos Sanctuary in the Mediterranean and grey whales off the coast of Mexico. They published their findings in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

Whales’ Earwax Tells Stories

It probably never occurred to you that whales have earwax, but they – and a lot of it, according to an article from National Geographic. And museums collect it. A whale’s earwax plug can be more than a 18 inches/50 cm long and weigh 2 lb/1 kg. contains a wealth of information about a whale’s life over six months. Added in layers like tree rings, they can give scientists data on everything over the period, including the environmental conditions the whale has experienced, its health overall and its level of stress, based on release of the hormone cortisol.

And, Something Completely Different

Scientists are paying more attention to the relationships between Arctic peoples who believe humans and whales can talk to each other, according an article in the great online magazine Hakai. It’s part of an effort to better understand Indigenous peoples’ relationships with animals and the animals’ capacity for thoughts and feelings.


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