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Bowhead Whale Songs

September 23, 2016

Bowhead whales in the Arctic Ocean sing a large variety songs to communicate with other whales.



Cetacean songsters.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Bowhead whale song) The critically endangered bowhead whale sings a variety of complex songs – many more than any other whale studied to date. This according to University of Washington oceanographer Kate Stafford. She and her colleagues placed underwater microphones in the Arctic Ocean in an attempt to detect the whales. They were amazed to record over 60 different bowhead whale songs.

KATE STAFFORD (Applied Physics Lab, University of Washington):

We had hoped to simply hear a few signals from the whales to know that they were still here. Instead, we recorded songs from these whales almost throughout the whole winter and often 24 hours a day. This was a great surprise because we didn’t expect to hear so much singing from these animals.


This suggests that bowheads are more like songbirds in their singing behavior than other whales. The researchers don’t yet know how many whales sang each song. Stafford says bowhead whales were decimated by whalers three centuries ago. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

(Bowhead whales song)

A bowhead whale. (Kate Stafford/University of Washington)