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Scientists Record Never-Before-Heard Whale Call

Over 600 humpback whale sounds were captured.

By:  |  May 12, 2022  |    501 Words
GettyImages-460403116 Humpback whale

(Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The oceans and the life within it have captivated scientists for many years. There is so much to explore and learn about the vast waters and the creatures who call them home. Ranked sixth among the largest underwater animals, humpback whales can grow to be about 44 feet long and weigh over 63,000 pounds. Perhaps even more interesting are the sounds they make to communicate with one another. Recently, scientists discovered a new noise coming from humpback whales, and they are trying to figure out precisely what the giant mammals are saying.

Big in Size and Big on Conversation

A team of researchers from the universities of Stellenbosch (Africa) and Exeter (UK), along with Greenpeace Research Laboratories, recorded more than 600 humpback whale sounds over 11 days. The recordings were captured in the Vema Seamount area of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of miles west of South Africa. Each of the sounds is categorized into longer “song” calls and shorter “non-song” calls.

The Natural World bannerOne of the recorded calls had never been noticed coming from humpbacks before this study. The short, sharp sound was named “gunshot” and had only ever been heard from different baleen whale species, including the right whales and bowhead whales that do not live in the same area.

Typical “whup” and “grumble” calls made up the rest of the sounds picked up by underwater microphones, called hydrophones. The area where the whales made these sounds is thought to be an essential rest stop for the giant sea creatures on their way to polar feeding grounds.

The “whup” is the most common sound for communication as it suggests feeding and is how calves and mothers find one another in the water.

Protecting the Whale’s Environment

Seamounts are underwater mountains that are formed by volcanic activity, and they’re crucial to whale populations. Discovered in 1959, the Vema Seamount was a popular area for fishing, but this meant there weren’t enough fish left for these whales. The area is now a part of a network of MPAs (Marine Protected Areas), and fishing is no longer allowed.

Currently, the United Nations (UN) is negotiating a treaty called the Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction that would protect 30% of the ocean’s high-seas areas. Dr. Kirsten Thompson of the University of Exeter said: “50 years ago, governments came together to turn around the fate of humpback whales. Now they have a chance to secure the progress already made and protect the high-seas habitats that whales rely on. While such large areas of our oceans remain unprotected, these ecosystems are highly vulnerable. A coherent and connected network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) across our oceans is urgently needed to ensure seamounts like Vema are protected.”

Whales grow very slowly and only reproduce once every three or four years. So, it takes time to renew a low whale population. In the meantime, studying these marine animals can help humans to learn more about how to preserve them.

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