Subject: Re:Whale songs/humpback whale

Lori Mazzuca (
Sun, 4 May 1997 15:58:41 -1000 (HST)

Dear Jonathon:
	Thank you for your question about the whales' songs.  You are
correct in assuming the singing is significant.  Today, there are
researchers/scientists out there studying nothing but acoustics and the
whale song. In this message I will attempt to simplify what I know about
the humpback whale song and later give you a few names and ideas to look
up in order to help you further research the whale song.  Okay?
	I know most about the humpback whale, which you also have along
the east coast.  The humpback's scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae,
means "longs wings of New England." Since you live there, you should go
out on a whale watch, if you haven't already done so. The humpbacks
migrate from colder latitudes in the summer months to warmer/tropical
regions in the winter months.  Research on the song has uncovered that the
whales (males only) sing the songs during the winter months on the
breeding grounds. It appears that the males are using the song as some
sort of "courtship" surrounding a female in oestrus (meaning she is ready
to mate).  Most of the information you will find about the song includes
communications as well. Basically, the complex study of songs simplifies 
to sound like this:
	The humpback whales produce a wide array of sounds, including the
highest and lowest frequencies humans can hear.  How humpback create these
sounds is unknown, since they do not have functional vocal cords.  Some
evidence suggests that these sounds are produced by various valves and
muscles in a series of of blind sacs which branch off within the
respiratory tract.
	But it is the male humpbacks that produce the long, complex
patterns of sound which they repeat for exteded periods.  Descrete notes
or units occur in patterened sequences which make up a phrase.  Usually
uniform in duration, phrases may contain repeated sounds.  A consecutive
group of phases constitutes a theme.  Although a given theme may vary in
the number of phrases it contains, its sequence is always the same.
Similarly, the sequence in which themes occur is always the same, although
some theses may be left out.  A predictable series of themes forms a song.
The song may serve to attract females, to scare away other males, or to
maintain the distance between singers.
	A song generally lasts between 6-18 minutes, depending on the
number of phrases it contains.  A male may repeat his song many times with
a minimum of pause.  As the seasons progresses, small changes occur in the
song.  New themes may be introduced or old ones may be altered.  While
little or no singing takes place during the summer, vocalizations
associated with the grooup feeding have been recorded.  When the whales
return the following winter, they sing the version popular at the end of
the previous breeding season.  An analysis of songs collected from Mexico,
Hawaii, and Japan within the same seaason indicates virtually all North
Pacific humpbacks constitute one population. 
	I have a few suggestions for your research on whale song.  
1.  When you research, look up the word "acoustic" and/or "cetacean" at
2.  Roger Payne and Peter Tyack are two people who have done extensive
    research on whale song, acoustics, and communication.  You should be
    able to find their names. The following are an example of each.

Payne, R.S., and S. McVay.  1971.  Songs of humpback whales.  Science

Tyack, P.  1983.  Differential response of humpback whales, Megaptera
novaeangliae, to playback of song or social sounds.  Behav. Ecol.
Sociobiol. 13:49-55.

3.  There are many excellent books published for the average,
non-scientific reader today.  Go to your local bookstore and look in the
marine mammal category.  These books have interpreted the complex science
into lay terms so it's easier to understand.  Within these books are
subheadings for communication, acoustics, and/or song.

4.  I have not been, but you might also pay a visit to the New England
Aquarium.  Some scientists affiliated with that facility do some excellent
work -- and what you're looking for might be right in your own back yard!
I hope this information is helpful. Have fun discovering more about the
whale song.

Ms. Lori Mazzuca

 On Sun, 4 May 1997, Jonathan Ross wrote:

> Dear Ms. Massuca,
> I'm a Junior in high school in New England, and I have been really
> interested in the song of the whale.  It seems that it must have some
> significance, but I can't find a resource that goes into whale-song in
> depth.  If you could point me in the direction of some resources, I'd be
> grateful.
> 	Seems like you're doing good work.  Keep it up!