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The secret lives of whales

e fall fauna. “The deep ocean appears to be a major reservoir of biodiversity on the planet. Some of the oddest animals ever discovered occur on whale falls,?says Smith. “These communities are the undertakers of the deep, assimilating huge whale carcasses and recycling their bodies back into oceanic lifecycles. If we want to understand the nature of life ?what evolution can do—we must understand these habitats before extinctions occur.?/p>

Blue Voices from the Deep

Cornell researcher Christopher W. Clark studies ocean voices. Using the U.S. Navy’s anti-submarine listening system from the cold war, and customized systems developed at Cornell, Clark is investigating how the great whales move in acoustic herds, communicating over 1000’s of square miles of ocean by using sound. “This is like using the Hubble telescope of ocean acoustics right now,?says Clark. “The Navy had heard the whales for years but hadn’t focused on the significance of their low voices. To me it was like —ohmygawd!?/p>

Access to the U.S. Navy’s underwater listening systems took researchers from fixed-point observations such as ships, to synoptic views of the ocean. Clark can move a cursor around a screen and listen-in on different parts of the world. If he hears a whale singing, he can fix its location and position it in space and time and observe multiple animals that are 100’s of miles apart—cohorts of humpback singers moving coherently?and watch the collective migration of species over large portions of an ocean basin. “So if I am a whale off Newfoundland, I can hear a whale off Bermuda,?says Clark. Singing whales appear to slalom from one geographic feature to the next using the echoes of their intense, infrasonic voices to navigate. They do this during long periods of complete darkness in the middle of the ocean basin where echoes take 10 to 20 minutes to return. “They must have the ability to process low-frequency sounds into images just as dolphins do with high frequency soun
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