Humpback whales are famous for their complex songs. The powerful sounds can travel underwater for thousands of miles. Singing is more common on winter breeding grounds like the Silver Bank. This suggests it is related to reproduction, but exactly how is not fully understood.
Sounds include high pitched squeaks, squeals, whistles and chirps. There are also lower pitched moans, growls, roars, ratchets. Some of the sounds are at frequencies that humans cannot hear.
Studies show that the song of a humpback whale is very well structured. There are different parts arranged into units and phrases. These are repeated as themes, with several themes making up song. A song is typically 7-20 minutes long. It repeats all the units, phrases and themes in the same sequence. A humpback performance can last for hours.
The song of the humpback whale is the same for all members of a given population. So all the whales on the Silver Bank are singing the same song, but each with their own voice and style. It’s like us singing the same song at karaoke.
Our guides use hydrophones to listen to the songs live on the Silver Bank. They are connected to compact digital recorders and portable amplifiers to broadcast and record the songs. There are often so many whales singing that it is common to hear multiple overlapping songs.
When we encounter a singing whale, we are often able to get a front row seat to one of the greatest performances on earth. As our bodies are mostly composed of water, the acoustic energy of the song flows right through us. It is not unusual for swimmers to experience different resonance frequencies from the songs. Some feel the reverberations in their chest cavities, others in the long bones of their arms or legs.
It is a concert where the song literally moves you to the core.