What are Whale Songs and What Have Scientists Learned About Them?

From: Pieter Arend Folkens (animalbytes@earthlink.net)
Date: Thu Feb 15 2001 - 11:52:36 EST

Dear Anne and Anthony:

You wrote:
>I am helping my son research the subject for a science fair project. . . .
>One of the requirements is for
>him to speak to an expert on this subject. Can you suggest recordings of the
>whale songs and where we may find them? Any other leads you can give us is

The most famous recording is Roger Payne's "Ocean Voices, Songs of the
Humpback Whale" out of Columbia Records. (I think that is still available
in CD form through amazon.com.) The Cornell University in Ithica, NY,
published a collection of various whale sounds from the bio-acoustics lab
under Chris Clark in 1993. The Marine Mammal Fund (Fort Mason Center,
Building E, San Francisco, CA 94123) published a number of marine mammal
audio tapes. The Alaska Whale Foundation also has a tape, but mostly on
foraging calls in Alaska.

Regarding that last item, it is important to note the differences between a
song and a call. In Hawaii during the mating/calving season, certain
humpbacks use what Roger Payne calls a song which is apparently used in
dominance schemes or mate attraction. On the feeding grounds, these songs
are not used. Rather, the whales have a variety of social sounds and prey
aggregation calls that are much different, and often more intense than the
mating songs used in the south.

For your project I suggest you contrast the differences between the mating
songs, social sounds, and prey aggregation calls. Understanding the complex
social and vocal life of whales may be easier to appreciate this way.

I think the Cornell Bio-acoustics Lab has a web site. You may want to check
out the Ocean Alliance (Roger Payne's) as well at www.pbs.org/odyssey. The
Alaska Whale Foundation webpage: is at

If you need further help with this, let me know.


Pieter Folkens
Alaska Whale Foundation

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