Subject: Whale sounds

Martine Berube (
Tue, 21 Oct 1997 17:04:47 -0700

Question: What whales use specifically to make all of their
>sounds.  ie. the clicking, squeals, music etc.

Dear Michelle Olmsted,

As whales do not possess vocal cords as terrestrial mammals, the way their
sounds are produced is not so obvious. Mysticetes or baleen whales do not
make as complex sounds as odontocetes or toothed whales. In general,
mysticetes make very low frequency moans. The low frequency sounds or calls
made by fin whales are under 100Hz, often around 20Hz to 75Hz. These sounds
are too low frequency for human to hear. Whales perhaps use their larynx,
which has well developed muscles. The air goes through the different
passages or series of elaborate sacs near the blowhole and this way
porpoises and toothed whales produce clicks.  The clicks and whistles
porpoises and some whales produce appear to be produced in the forehead of
the mammal in an organ called the melon. It was also suggested that the
whales may use the lips of the arytenoid cartilage (they are not found in
mysticetes), the membrane lying across the posterior face of the dorsal
narial opening or the lips of the nasal plugs.
I hope that this is of some help,

Martine Berube
Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of California
Irvine, CA, 92697-2525