Singing Whales

One exceptional behavior of humpback whales is the famous “singing” of the adult males. In contrast to many of the other behaviors listed on this site, the song of a humpback whale is a submarine behavior best experienced in the water. One of Conscious Breath Adventures’ specialties is helping you to a front row seat to one of the greatest performances on earth. Imagine listening to the most sophisticated animal song on the planet in an auditorium where you are literally immersed in the music. The power of these songs makes them audible for miles. Our bodies are mostly composed of water which allows this acoustic energy to literally flow right through. It is not unusual for swimmers to experience different resonance frequencies from the song of the humpback whale, with some feeling the reverberations in their chest cavities, others in the long bones of their arms or legs. When you close your eyes the music doesn’t come from without, but from within. Imagine a concert where the song literally moves you to the core!

The song of the humpback whale is a highly complex series of vocalizations that include high pitched squeaks, squeals, and chirps and lower pitched moans, growls, roars, ratchets and more, in a range of frequencies that extends far above and below that of human hearing. The powerful sounds can travel  underwater for many miles and are more common on winter breeding grounds like the Silver Bank.

Studies show that the song of a humpback whale is very well structured, with various sound elements arranged into units that are repeated in phrases that in turn are repeated as themes, with several themes making up a single song. A song is typically 7-20 minutes and repeats all the units, phrases and themes in the same sequence in performances that can last for hours.

The song of the humpback whale is the same for all members of a given population so, for example, all the North Atlantic humpback whales singing on the Silver Bank are singing the same song, but each with their own voice, much like different humans singing the same song at karaoke. The humpback song is constantly changing and evolving over time with different units, phrases and themes being adopted or discarded to the extent that after several years the song may have developed into something completely different.

The big unanswered question is why do humpback whales sing? No one knows for certain but since singing is more widespread in breeding areas the common thinking is that it facilitates socialization and reproduction either by attracting females or by establishing territory between males.

Conscious Breath Adventures uses Aquarian Audio hydrophones connected to recorders and amplifiers to broadcast the song to guests aboard our whale boats while we make recordings that we contribute to any and all interested researchers.