Why Do Whales Sing?

Singing is a feature that has been observed among several of the popular baleen whale species such as the humpback whale and blue whale.

These marine mammals are able to produce loud melodic notes and tones which closely mimic the sounds of music created by humans and are commonly refered as whale songs.

Among the 80 – 90 recorded species of cetacea (cetaceans include all species of whale, dolphin and porpoise)  in existence today only a small handful of whales are known to produce whale songs.

Both male and female whales can vocalize but only the males produce these loud, long and complex melodies within the humpback whale species.

Unfortunately researchers don’t have a clear understanding of what these sounds mean or why they are sung, and aren’t able to interpret what exactly is being communicated or said between the male and female whales.

They have however been able to point out some interesting facts and have come up with some information regarding the possible meaning of these songs.

These songs are often heard during mating season which has led researchers to believe that it is used to communicate a desire to mate.

It is also believed that these songs may communicate youthfulness, strength and vitality to potential partners.

Male humpbacks can be seen singing either alone or in a group and when together will sing in tune with one another and when a male escorts a female he can also be observed signing and apparently courting the female.

What’s more interesting is that even males that are separated over long distances can be found singing the same melody at the same time.

These songs can last anywhere from 5 minutes to a half hour or so and then repeat over the course several hours or days.

Over time these melodies and notes may change but the males will continue to sing these songs in harmony as the song continually changes.

In certain instances when one male approaches another singing male they may become aggressive, territorial and defensive, which suggests that they do not like being interrupted or challenged during mating periods.

Whale songs have often been referred to as haunting, beautiful and sad by the people who have heard them.

Aside from being used during mating season these marine mammals have also been observed singing during feeding periods, when they have lost a loved one or when they are feeling lonely over extended periods of time.

Marine biologists and researchers point out that these songs are different from those observed during mating periods and shouldn’t be confused with mating songs.

While these songs are heard among certain baleen whale species they aren’t produced by the toothed whale suborder.

Toothed whales are generally much smaller than their baleen whale counterparts and communicate using high-pitched clicks and whistles as opposed to the loud, long, low-pitched moans and groans of the larger baleen whales.

The large size and loud vocalizations of the baleen whale suborder makes it easier for these giants majestic animals to communicate over large distances.

In addition to communicating through song these marine mammals also communicate by performing various physical gestures such as spy hopping, tail slapping, breaching and charging.