Name That Tune
A number of whale species make their own distinctive sounds. Click on the links below to hear various whale songs and sounds, recorded by researchers at the Ocean Alliance. (RealPlayer plug-in required).
- The call of a blue whale. Blue whales are not only the largest known animals on Earth, they are also the loudest. Their calls can reach 185 decibels (that's 45 more decibels than a jet airplane) and travel for hundreds of miles underwater.
- A humpback whale, calling out as it charges toward a boat
- The call of a southern right whale
- A southern right whale "snoring," making deep guttural noise as it inhales and exhales while resting.
Humpback whales and most other species produce a wide range of sounds on a daily basis. In many species, whales seem to form close bonds with one another, and their calls may serve to let their companion whales know where they are and what they are doing. Water is an excellent fluid for conducting sound, and whale calls can be extremely loud, so they may communicate with one another over hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles. Whale experts are concerned that the noise pollution caused by boats, offshore drilling and other human activities in the ocean is drowning out these calls, shutting down the whale's long-distance communication system.
We still don't know what whales are actually saying to each other, but some researchers believe that whales possess sophisticated language capabilities. Whales have large brains, with the complex folds biologists associate with higher intelligence, but the extent of their abilities is not clear. Many species do exhibit highly intelligent behavior, both in captivity and in the wild, learning complex tasks and demonstrating advanced problem-solving skills.
Whales also have excellent memories, as is evident in their migration patterns. As we'll see in the next section, individual whales seem to remember specific points along the coast and throughout the ocean, returning to the same choice feeding spots year after year.