In an attempt to better understand the sounds emitted by bowhead whales, researchers from the University of Washington deployed recording equipment off the East coast of Greenland from 2010-2014 and captured a vast library of audio recordings.
Image Credit: Kit Kovacs/Norwegian Polar Institute
As it would seem, the extensive efforts paid off. The researchers purportedly discerned more than 184 unique songs uttered by the bowhead whales, illuminating a diverse music library more advanced than that of any other known whale species on Earth, including humpbacks.
The team published their exciting findings in the journal Biology Letters this week.
“If humpback whale song is like classical music, bowheads are jazz,” said study lead author Kate Stafford from the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
“The sound is more freeform. And when we looked through four winters of acoustic data, not only were there never any song types repeated between years, but each season had a new set of songs.”
Citing the study, the bowhead whales would regularly sing from late Fall until early Spring, and the researchers noted that the whales did so more frequently during the later years of recording then when they first began.
But perhaps the most attention-grabbing detail involved the sheer number of different songs these creatures sang.
“We were hoping when we put the hydrophone out that we might hear a few sounds,” Stafford added. “When we heard, it was astonishing: Bowhead whales were singing loudly, 24 hours a day, from November until April. And they were singing many, many different songs.”
The study uncovers a treasure trove of information concerning bowhead whale behavior, but it also raises a substantial number of questions that the researchers hope to answer in the future.
For example, they’d like to learn why bowhead whales sing so many different songs. Furthermore, they’d love to decode the songs to determine why the whales sing them and what they could mean.
It should be interesting to see what kinds of answers future research may uncover, but in the meantime, everything remains a mystery.
Source: University of Washington