The sound level of songs blue whales sing across the vast expanses of the ocean to attract potential mates has been steadily creeping downward for the past few decades, and a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and his colleagues believe the trend may be good news for the population of the endangered marine mammal.
Mark McDonald of WhaleAcoustics in Bellvue, Colo., along with John Hildebrand of Scripps Oceanography and Sarah Mesnick of NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center studied blue whale song data from around the world and discovered a downward curve in the pitch, or frequency, of the songs. The decline was tracked in blue whales across the globe, from off the Southern California coast to the Indian and Southern Oceans.
"The basic style of singing is the same, the tones are there, but the animal is shifting the frequency down over time. The more recent it is, the lower the frequency the animal is singing in, and we have found that in every song we have data for," said Hildebrand, a professor of oceanography in the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps.
The study's results are published in the most recent issue of the journal Endangered Species Research.
The researchers examined a list of possible causes for the frequency dropfrom climate change to a rise in human-produced ocean noiseand believe it may be explained by the increase of blue whale numbers following bans on commercial whaling activities.
While the function of blue whale songs is not known and scientists have much more to learn, they do know that all singers have been determined to be males and that the high-intensity, or loud, and low-frequency songs propagate long distances across the ocean. Blue whales are widely dispersed during the breeding season and it is likely that songs function to advertise which species is singing and the location of the singing whale.
In the heyday of commercial
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University of California - San Diego