Science says the songs of whales have good vibrations

A humpback whale off Sydney. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The haunting songs of the humpback whale also cause vibrations in the sea as well as sound waves, according to the latest research.

A study off Hawaii by the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, published by the Royal Society, shows that singing whales generate high levels of particle motion in the water.

The researchers say the findings raise concerns about the effects of human-caused noise in the oceans. Further research is needed to better understand the biological role of acoustic particle motion, they say.

This vibration component of sound in whale songs may be useful for hearing and communication for the oceans’ largest and loudest animals.

Previous studies of whale songs concentrated on sound pressure measurements, overlooking particle motion.

“Whales could potentially use such information to determine the distance of signalling animals,” the researchers write.

The songs of the humpback have intrigued researchers, with the key questions being: why do they sing, are they a form of communication and what are they saying?

We do know that the songs, mostly sung my male humpbacks, in the northern hemisphere have different themes to those in the southern half of the planet.

In Australia, the songs are prevalent during migration north in winter along the east and west coasts.

The songs consist of an arrangement of wails, moans, and shrieks in cycles lasting up to 30 minutes and then repeated.