Federal marine biologists for the first ever time, have recorded singing by one of the rarest whales on the planet. Using moored acoustic recorders to capture repeated patterns of calls made by male North Pacific right whales, scientists were able to record right whale songs.
The quantity of eastern North Pacific right whales is estimated at only 30 animals from a population largely wiped out by whalers. The slow-moving whales remained buoyant after death and were targeted by whalers.
NOAA Fisheries marine biologist Jessica Crance said, “Scientists detected four distinct songs over eight years at five locations in the Bering Sea off Alaska’s southwest coast. Weird patterns of sound were first noted during a summer field survey in 2010.”
“We thought it might be a right whale, but we didn’t get visual confirmation.”
There are other whales known for the singing: Humpback, Bowhead, Baleen, and others.
NOAA scientists reviewed long-term data from acoustic recorders and noted repeating patterns of the sound patterns. However, it took until a voyage in 2017 to coordinate a right whale song with a sighting of the male making it.
Right whales make a variety of sounds. A predominant call sounds like a gunshot. They also make up calls, downcalls, moans, screams, and warbles.
Crance said, “To be a song, the sounds have to contain rhythmically patterned series of units produced in a consistent manner to form clearly recognizable patterns. It’s a series of sounds that are reproduced in a stereotyped, regular manner that is repeated over and over.”
“No one knows why right whales sing, and it almost raises more questions than it answers. It could be that there are so few of them left, they feel the need to call more frequently or sing.”
“A singing male may by trying to attract a female. With only 30 animals, finding a mate must be difficult.”