Mark McDonald of WhaleAcoustics in Bellvue, Colo., along with John Hildebrand of Scripps Oceanography and Sarah Mesnick of NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center studied blue whale song data from around the world and discovered a downward curve in the pitch, or frequency, of the songs. The decline was tracked in blue whales across the globe, from off the Southern California coast to the Indian and Southern Oceans.
“The basic style of singing is the same, the tones are there, but the animal is shifting the frequency down over time. The more recent it is, the lower the frequency the animal is singing in, and we have found that in every song we have data for,” said Hildebrand, a professor of oceanography in the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps.
The study’s results are published in the most recent issue of the journal Endangered Species Research.
The researchers examined a list of possible causes for the frequency drop—from climate change to a rise in human-produced ocean noise—and believe it may be explained by the increase of blue whale numbers following bans on commercial whaling activities.
While the function of blue whale songs is not known and scientists have much more to learn, they do know that all singers have been determined to be males and that the high-intensity, or loud, and low-frequency songs propagate long distances across the ocean. Blue whales are widely dispersed during the breeding season and it is likely that songs function to advertise which species is singing and the location of the singing whale.
In the heyday of commercial whaling, as blue whale numbers plummeted, it may have been advantageous for males to sing higher frequency songs, the researchers believe, in order to maximize their transmission distance and their ability to locate potential mates (females) or competitors (other males).
“It may be that when (blue whale) densities go up, it’s not so far to get to the closest female, whereas back when they were depleted it may have been that the closest female was a long way away,” said Hildebrand.
In the 1960s, when blue whale numbers were substantially reduced and recordings of the animals were first made, there may have been a tradeoff in which the male suitors chose to sing higher frequencies that were louder and heard over greater distances, Hildebrand said. In more recent years, as population sizes have increased, it may now be more advantageous for males to sing songs that are lower in frequency rather than louder.
“When they make these songs they need to use most of the air in their lungs,” said Hildebrand. “It’s like an opera singer that sees how long he can hold a note. The (male) songs are made to impress the females and/or other males, so I think that’s how the boy blue whales are impressing the girls, or are showing off to other boys: by making a loud and long song.”
The scientists say the same downward pitch phenomenon may be true in other whales such as fin and humpbacks, but the blue whale song, with a comparatively easier song to analyze, is a good springboard to study other species. Hildebrand says such knowledge about whale songs could be important in monitoring whale populations and recovery efforts.
During the study the researchers analyzed thousands of blue whale songs divided into at least 10 worldwide regions. These include the Northeast, Southwest and Northwest Pacific Ocean; the North Atlantic; the Southern Ocean near Antarctica; and the North and Southeast Indian Ocean. Blue whale songs have been recorded for the last 45 years through scientific and military applications by seafloor seismometers tracking regional earthquakes and dedicated whale acoustic recording packages.
In addition to NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Mesnick is affiliated with Scripps’ Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.
This research was funded by the U.S. Navy, NOAA and the National Science Foundation.
| Newswise Science News
The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies
16.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
How protein islands form
15.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and the Instituto Geofisico--Escuela Politecnica Nacional (IGEPN) of Ecuador, showed an increasing volcanic danger on Cotopaxi in Ecuador using a powerful technique known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR).
The Andes region in which Cotopaxi volcano is located is known to contain some of the world's most serious volcanic hazard. A mid- to large-size eruption has...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
16.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
16.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
16.08.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research