From: Phil Clapham (
Date: Fri Sep 06 2002 - 08:03:33 EDT

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    You asked how whales communicate. We know quite a bit about
    communication in some whales and dolphins, and almost nothing in others.

    Some dolphins develop what are called "signature whistles", that is
    sounds which are unique to that individual and allow others in the group
    to recognize who's "talking". Sperm whales seem to have something
    similar going in the form of patterns of sounds called "codas". killer
    whales are particularly fascinating, since they live in family groups
    which have their own distinct set of sounds together with other sounds
    that they share with other killer whale groups. The more closely
    related two killer whale groups are, the most their "vocabulary"
    resembles one another. These differences have been called "dialects"
    and researchers can often recognize which group is pasing by just by
    listening on underwater microphones (without actually seeing the

    Baleen whales make a variety of sounds, some of them extremely loud. It
    often isn't clear what the context of these sounds is, or exactly what
    is being communicated. Humpback whales (and a couple of other species)
    sing in the biological sense - males make long patterned sequences of
    sounds that repeat in a predictable way, and these songs seem to be
    largely for the purpose of attracting females. Humpbacks will sing for
    hours or even days.

    Blue and fin whales make extremely loud sounds that are below the range
    of human hearing. These sounds are so loud that in deep water they can
    travel literally thousands of miles; US Navy underwater microphones
    (used for detecting submarines) can pick up blue whales at distances of
    almost 2000 miles! It's the loudest and deepest voice in the animal

    Phil Clapham


    Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D. Large Whale Biology Program Northeast Fisheries Science Center 166 Water Street Woods Hole, MA 02543, U.S.A.

    tel. 508 495-2316 fax 508 495-2066 email:

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