Humpback Whale Vocalizations: Kate Williams & Laila Bryant


Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)are baleen whales normally ranging from 10 - 16 m in length. Baleen whales use keratinous sieve-like structures instead of teeth to extract krill and small fish from sea water. Humpback whales migrate great distances yearly from the warm tropical waters, where they live in the winter to breed and give birth, to cooler polar waters, where the whales stay to feed for the rest of the year. Historically, humpback whales spanned all of the world's oceans, but their numbers have been dramatically reduced by whaling. The whales are now a federally protected endangered species. Because it is illegal to conduct experiments on humback whales without a federal permit, they are exceptionally difficult to study. They also spend most of their lives underwater and are far too large to hold in an enclosure for any extended period of time [1].

Humpback whales stand out from other whales primarily because of their "song." Humpback whales use vocalizations (songs) for a variety of purposes, most of which are not completely understood by scientists. Singing is an exclusively male behavior, suggesting that it may be related to sexual selection either because females evaluate male
fitness based on singing ability or because singing is a manifestation of intraspecific male competition. Since vocalizations associated with breeding occur primarily during the winter breeding season, they may be part of the breeding ritual. Vocalizations are also used to hunt cooperatively. image coutesty of