Bowhead whales love songs’ research

This video from Canada is called Bowhead Whales in Kugaaruk.

From News Service:

Research: Bowhead Whales Sing Love Songs In Different Voices; ‘Part Of The Eternal Struggle To Obtain A Mate’‎

August 3, 2009 22:43 EST

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — It is now generally accepted that the bowhead whale is the longest lived mammal on the planet, with a lifespan of over 200 years. But that it can sing with “more than one voice” and that it changes its repertoire from year to year is news. This behaviour is unique among baleen whales and is a newly discovered phenomenon that has been investigated by researchers at the University of Copenhagen.

The project comes at a time when the bowhead whale, after many years of absence, has returned to the waters around northwest Greenland, including Disko Bay. It wasn’t that many years ago that the bowhead whale was written off as extinct in the waters around Greenland and especially in Disko Bay in northwest Greenland where University of Copenhagen has its Arctic Field Station.

But now the situation has changed and adult bowhead whales, which can grow up to 18 metres long and weigh 100 tons, have returned to the bay. Probably because global warming has opened up the Northwest Passage, making it ice free at certain times of the year for the first time in 125,000 years. This gives bowhead whales from the northern Pacific a chance to reach Disko Bay and mate with the small local population. There is now believed to be around 1200 whales in the waters around Disko Island.

Hydrophones have revealed that the whales have developed very sophisticated songs that are used to attract a mate and thereby ensure the species’ survival.

“Whale song is not a new phenomenon. But the special thing about the bowhead whale’s song is that they sometimes sing with ‘more than one voice’. They produce two different songs or sounds, which are then mixed together. This has not been seen in other baleen whales. It turns out that bowhead whales change their songs from year to year and never repeat songs from previous years. I.e. the whales have a new repertoire each year – presumably as part of the eternal struggle to obtain a mate,” said Outi Maria Tervo, a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen and the current scientific leader of the Arctic Station in the town of Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn) on Disko Island.

“The bowhead whale is in the same weight class as fin whales and blue whales but they produce much more complicated songs, at higher frequencies, between 100 and 2000 hertz – cycles per second. At the same time the question arises whether the changes in their song repertoire are due to bowhead whales being so sophisticated that they change their songs from year to year in order to constantly attract and mate with new partners and thereby spread their genes. The bowhead whale is the only species of ‘singing’ whale where the gender of the singers has not yet been established,” says Outi Maria Tervo, who now has a serious opportunity to study bowhead whales via different types of hydrophones, thanks to donations from, amongst others, the A.P. Møller fund.

Her studies of the love songs of bowhead whales have just been chosen to be presented at large international conference on marine mammals later this year in Canada. At the same time the A.P. Møller fund has chosen to support the project with 1.8 million Danish kroner over a three year period.

You can hear a bowhead whale song here. Hear also here.

Whale ‘sense of smell’ revealed: Bowhead whales have a previously undiscovered ability to smell: here.

Bowhead whales and global warming: here.

Northern right whales: here. And here.

9 thoughts on “Bowhead whales love songs’ research

  1. Pacific islanders struggle for survival against global warming —
    `Rich countries must slash emissions now’

    July 29, 2009 — For Pacific islanders, climate change is not a threat
    looming somewhere in the future. Rising sea levels and unpredictable
    weather are having devastating effects right now. Climate change has
    already forced some communities to leave their traditional homes.Simon
    Butler spoke to two climate change activists from the Pacific about
    their campaign for immediate cuts to global greenhouse emissions.

    * Read more


  2. Where whales meet
    As the Arctic ice cover shrinks, the Northwest Passage opens not just for ships but for whales. Satellite tracking shows that bowhead whales previously blocked into their own oceans end up in the same Arctic waters when ice recedes during the summer. Previous tracking found whales exploring the entrances to Arctic passageways, but in August 2010 a bowhead whale from West Greenland and one from Alaska swam far enough to occupy the same waters, report Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and his colleagues. In an upcoming Biology Letters, they note that populations long considered separate by wildlife biologists and managers may now be mixing. —Susan Milius


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