Subject: Whale Songs

Lori Mazzuca (
Wed, 14 May 1997 12:27:04 -1000 (HST)

Dear Ellen,
	Thank you for your general question asking about whale songs. We
know most about the humbpack whale song, so much of my answer will be
about humpbacks.  However, much of the general information applies to all
of the whales.  
	In the instance of the humpback whale, the sounds have been
classified as true songs. Exactly how the sounds are produced by the
humpbacks is not fully understood.  Whales have no vocal cords, yet the
sounds produced by the humpback cover the widest frequency range of all
the whales.  It is believed that the air is circulated thorugh its complex
respiratory system while the whae is submerged, but no air is released
into the water while they sing.
	While all whales can vocalize, to date, the "singers" observed by
researchers were identified as males.  The songs are produced on the
breeding grounds, so researchers speculate that singing might have
something to do with attracting a mate, establishing a territory, or
advertising availability.  But, it seems to be the general consensus that
the song is somehow linked to "courtship."
	Water conducts sound 3 1/2 times faster and 4 1/2 times further
than air.  The sounds of whales can be heard from miles away.  The lower
frequencies can travel at least 100 miles and I have heard that some of
those sounds might even travel as far as thousands of miles!
	Thank you again for your question.
Lori Mazzuca