While the song of the humpback whale is a fairly well-known oceanic phenomenon, scientists have not yet pinpointed the meaning behind the chorus of calls bellowing from the males over and over again. Researchers believe the vocalizations are meant to alert other whales of their presence and vie for the title of dominant male. Their songs carry miles through the water column, and yet curiously, the humpback whale does not possess vocal chords. How, then, are these characteristic sounds being emitted from these ocean giants?
We associate the sounds we hear from the whale song with sounds we make with our own vocal cords and mouths, but nothing of the sort is happening with the humpback. The sounds are actually the result of air moving inside their heads, similar to stretching a balloon’s mouthpiece after you’ve filled it to let the air slowly squeak out, creating a variety of different sounds. Male humpbacks will all sing the same song the same way during a given season, but it changes the following year, making each composition a one-of-a-kind piece.
Check out this video interview with marine biologist Nan Hauser as she explains the wonderful, yet mysterious world of whale songs.
Image via mikebaird