Richard G. Petty, MD

The Song of the Whales

I suppose that it has something to do when I grew up, but I’ve always been fascinated by animal communications in general and the amazing songs of the whales in general.

A few years ago I was speaking at a conference in Maui, and I stopped speaking and took the assembled throng outside because some migrating whales were coming in very close to shore. Our wait as not in vain: I saw something that I’d only ever seen on documentaries: two adult whales and their calf leaping out of the water in harmony. Later that day someone took me out beyond the surf and had me swim underwater. The whale song was crystal clear, even though some of the whales were now miles away.

A few months ago I wrote about the data suggesting that dolphins call each other by name. Web Mistress Carol has just sent me a report of some research that was published in January by a group from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

The scientists used harmless tags suctioned to the whales’ bodies, to track the whales and found that as they feed they send out calls to let each other know where they are. Each group employs a different sound.

The noises play a similarly important role during mating season when males sing long, low-pitched songs to indicate their reproductive fitness to females. Females select mates based on size and estimate that by evaluating males’ songs: Larger males can take in more air and hold notes longer.

A related study, also by Scripps researchers, found that there are distinct “dialects” of whale-speak in different regions of the ocean.

The scientists used acoustic recordings to delineate nine population regions worldwide. They found the whales weren’t evenly distributed, though: Populations using a “Type 1” call, for example, live within a narrow band of ocean hugging the North American coast, while whales that use a “Type 4” call are spread over a large swath of the Northern Pacific Ocean.

The second study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Cetacean Research Management.

The scientists say the dialect findings could help guide conservation efforts for blue whales, whose numbers dwindled to dangerously low levels before whaling moratoria were enacted: There were once an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 in the Southern Hemisphere, but today that number is closer to 1,000.

Here is a terrific video (just bear with the commercial at the beginning) and an audio file of whale song: Audio: Hear Whales Sing

Video: Starving Whales

I would also like to pay tribute to the Scripps Institute for making the entire article open access.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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