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Discovering the Daily Routines of Humpback Whale Songs

Humpback whales communicating using sound
Two humpback whales communicating using sound. Credit: OpenAI's DALL-E/ Animals Around the Globe

A New Pattern in Whale Song

Humpback whales have revealed a new behavioral pattern in a recent study. In collaboration with NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, researchers discovered that these whales move their singing away from shore during the day and return nearshore in the evening. This finding significantly explains the humpback whale behavior and song.

humpback whale conversation
Humpback whales. Credit: Elianne Dipp via Pexels

Understanding Whale Movements

The study, published in Royal Society Open Science, utilized underwater listening devices and visual surveys to track whales’ physical and acoustic movements in Hawaii’s high-density breeding grounds. Anke Kügler, the lead author, explained that singers might be trying to avoid the cacophony nearshore when whale numbers are high. Additionally, the whales move closer to shore around sunset, possibly to escape the noisy chorus of other offshore animals.

Humpback whale tail
Humpback whale tail Credit: Giles Laurent – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Implications of the Findings

This research sheds light on the dynamic onshore-offshore movement of singing humpback whales. Marc Lammers suggests that this behavior may increase the whales’ acoustic display efficiency, ensuring their songs are heard by other whales. The study is the first of its kind to use specialized acoustic sensors to localize individual singers and understand their daily movement patterns.

Humpback whale
Humpback whale flukes. Credit: Giles Laurent – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Addressing Noise Pollution Concerns

The study also highlights the issue of potential acoustic masking from natural sources, including one whale masking another whale’s song. This aspect has been mostly overlooked in discussions about noise pollution related to marine mammals. The new findings contribute to our understanding of how animals relying on acoustic signals adapt their behavior in loud environments.

Other whales such as the Bryde’s whale might mask humpback whale songs. Credit: Jolene Bertoldi – Flickr: Brydes whale, CC BY 2.0,

The Threat of Seismic Surveys

Anthropogenic noise pollution, particularly from seismic surveys, poses a significant threat to the complex communication systems of humpback whales. Seismic surveys for underwater mapping and oil exploration generate intense sound waves that travel long distances underwater. These loud noises can disrupt the natural acoustic environment, making it challenging for whales to communicate effectively. The interference caused by seismic surveys can lead to changes in whale behavior, including alterations in singing patterns, migration routes, and even feeding habits. Protecting these majestic creatures from such disturbances is crucial to ensure their survival and the preservation of their intricate communication networks.

Oil rig
Oil Rig. Credit: Bloesafir Pamanjagau, CC BY 3.0,

Conservation and Stewardship

This research contributes to fulfilling the Sanctuary’s management plan by developing crucial research on humpback whales and their habitats, aiding in maintaining a healthy, sustainable population.

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