Song of rare whale 'crying for mate' recorded for the first time

Article Image

Marine biologists have for the first time recorded the "song" of the world's rarest large whale, the eastern North Pacific right whale, of which fewer than 30 remain.

Posted: Jun 20, 2019 4:10 PM
Updated: Jun 20, 2019 4:10 PM

Marine biologists have for the first time recorded the song of the world's rarest large whale, the eastern North Pacific right whale, of which fewer than 30 individuals remain.

The calls, which researchers have been trying to capture and identify for years, are thought to be the cry of lone males trying to attract mates. In the remote Bering Sea, it is an increasingly difficult task as the population of the extremely endangered whale dwindles.

A team from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used moored acoustic recorders to capture repeated patterns of calls made by the whales. It is the first time any population of right whales has been known to break into song, the scientists say -- it is well documented that Southern and North Atlantic right whales restrict themselves to individual sounds.

"During a summer field survey in 2010, we started hearing a weird pattern of sounds," said marine mammal scientist Jessica Crance. "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."

Stout, slow-moving mammals which grow up to 18 metres (59 ft) and float after being killed, right whales around the world have been hunted to the brink of extinction. North Pacific Right Whales are believed to number in the low hundreds, and the eastern subset, with 30 or less according to NOAA, is the rarest of them all

The North Atlantic right whale, the favourite prey of American whalers until a ban was introduced in the 1930s, has an estimated 450 individuals; the World Wildlife Foundation has said that its population has shown "no signs of recovery" after years of uncontrolled hunting. Ocean warming and the proliferation of industrial fishing lines have led to a further decline in recent years.

North Atlantic and Southern right whales have been found to use single gunshot calls, upcalls, screams, and warbles instead of the patterned phrasing that constitutes singing.

From initial field surveys in the Bering Sea, the NOAA researchers thought that the sound patterns they heard could be song coming from the right whale, but struggled to link the song to the rare mammal. After seven years of documenting sound patterns and combing through data collected from different locations in the Bering Sea, scientists were finally able to visually identify the right whales, confirming their theory.

"We heard these same songs during a summer survey in 2017, and were able to localize the songs to male right whales," said 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."

Scientists think that these songs may be part of 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," said Crance.

"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."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35712

Reported Deaths: 2207
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion10037594
Lake3806202
Allen174371
Cass15927
Elkhart143529
St. Joseph132035
Hamilton118094
Hendricks118074
Johnson1120110
Madison59761
Porter55329
Clark52841
Bartholomew52238
Howard43734
LaPorte43624
Tippecanoe4214
Shelby39822
Jackson3942
Delaware38740
Hancock34928
Floyd32140
Boone31835
Vanderburgh2902
Morgan28324
Noble25121
Montgomery24417
Clinton2401
White2389
Decatur23031
Grant22123
Dubois2053
Harrison19622
Henry18412
Vigo1758
Greene17125
Dearborn17021
Monroe17012
Warrick16728
Kosciusko1661
Lawrence16524
Marshall1472
Miami1411
Putnam1377
Orange13122
Jennings1314
Scott1223
Franklin1158
Ripley1086
LaGrange1022
Daviess9516
Carroll933
Steuben872
Wayne865
Wabash802
Fayette797
Newton7810
Jasper701
Jay530
Clay522
Washington511
Rush503
Randolph503
Fulton501
Pulaski490
Jefferson471
Whitley443
DeKalb431
Starke393
Sullivan371
Owen341
Perry340
Huntington342
Brown331
Benton320
Wells320
Knox310
Blackford272
Tipton261
Crawford240
Fountain222
Switzerland210
Spencer211
Adams201
Gibson182
Parke180
Posey160
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin120
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0175

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36792

Reported Deaths: 2300
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin6112290
Cuyahoga4669247
Hamilton2739164
Marion267931
Lucas2296256
Pickaway209537
Summit1487181
Mahoning1463188
Butler93333
Columbiana88952
Stark75299
Lorain70960
Montgomery69516
Trumbull58451
Belmont43914
Warren39021
Medina36623
Miami36230
Tuscarawas3604
Ashtabula34537
Delaware34414
Portage33257
Lake31812
Fairfield3108
Clark3067
Wood30348
Geauga29533
Wayne28851
Licking26510
Mercer2207
Clermont2165
Allen21433
Richland2093
Darke18423
Erie18216
Madison1627
Washington11819
Crawford1174
Morrow1071
Ottawa10217
Greene1025
Putnam9514
Sandusky8512
Monroe7914
Auglaize763
Ross732
Hocking705
Jefferson672
Hardin640
Huron601
Williams561
Union551
Muskingum521
Hancock511
Shelby463
Holmes463
Clinton451
Fulton450
Wyandot442
Coshocton400
Logan400
Fayette400
Preble391
Guernsey362
Defiance342
Carroll313
Brown301
Lawrence300
Champaign281
Highland261
Knox251
Seneca242
Vinton212
Ashland210
Perry191
Athens181
Henry170
Scioto170
Paulding140
Jackson140
Adams101
Harrison100
Pike90
Gallia81
Van Wert70
Noble60
Meigs60
Morgan50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Broken Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 70°
Angola
Broken Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 61°
Huntington
Overcast
69° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 69°
Decatur
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 72°
Van Wert
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 72°
Warm & Humid Thursday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events