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Discovery of Sound in the Sea
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Humpback Whale
(Megaptera novaeangliae)
Photo of humpback whale breaching.
Humpback whale breaching. ©Inger Marie Laursen.
Photo of humpback whales underwater.
Underwater photograph of humpback whales in Hawaii. ©Tsuneo Nakamura.
Click either choice below to hear the Humpback Whale:
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Songs can be typically heard in their winter breeding grounds (e.g., Hawaii), but this recording of a humpback whale singing was actually taken in one of their feeding grounds on Cordell Bank Canyon, off the coast of San Francisco, CA. The echoes you hear are from their sounds bouncing off the canyon walls.
Sound ©Thomas R. Kieckhefer. Released under Creative Commons License, Non-commercial attribution.
Click either choice below to hear the Humpback Whale feeding:
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Humpback feeding calls recorded inside Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
Sound courtesy of Christine Gabriele, Glacier Bay National Park.
Click either choice below to hear a humpback "grunt":
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These low grunting sounds of humpbacks were recorded near Soquel Canyon in Monterey Bay, CA. The whales were actively feeding on sardines that were concentrated near the bottom, at a depth of about 75 m (250 ft). It's possible that these sounds could assist in corralling their prey near the bottom making it easier for the whale to coordinate their feeding efforts. (Note: you can also hear sea lions in the background barking underwater.)
Sound ©Thomas R. Kieckhefer. Released under Creative Commons License, non-commercial attribution.
Click either choice below to hear a humpback "eeee":
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These humpbacks whale sounds were recorded near Soquel Canyon in Monterey Bay, CA. The sounds were made when the whales were coming up to the surface, after feeding on sardines that were concentrated near the bottom.
Sound ©Thomas R. Kieckhefer.Released under Creative Commons License, non-commercial attribution.

Underwater video of humpback whales
Video of humpback whales off the coast of Hawaii.
Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Visualizing the humpback whale call
Songs can be typically heard in their winter breeding grounds (e.g., Hawaii), but this recording of a humpback whale singing was actually taken in one of their feeding grounds on Cordell Bank Canyon, off the coast of San Francisco, CA. The echoes you hear are from their sounds bouncing off the canyon walls.
Sound ©Thomas R. Kieckhefer.
Description
Humpback whales are probably the best known of all the baleen whales. Humpback whales are rorquals and are found in all parts of the ocean. They spend spring, summer, and fall in high latitudes feeding on rich patches of prey. During the winter they migrate to more tropical areas for breeding and calving. Humpbacks range from 16-17 m (52-56 ft) in length, and females are typically 1-1.5 m (3-5 ft) longer than males. Humpback whales can be identified by their long pectoral flippers that are approximately 1/3 their body length. The top, or dorsal, part of the body is black, but parts of both sides of the flippers and the undersides of the tail flukes are white. Distinctive markings on the underside of the tail flukes are used to identify individual humpback whales. These traits are easy to see because humpback whales often perform spectacular jumps and leaps at the surface.

Humpbacks are best known for their vocalizations that are arranged in complex, repeating sequences with the characteristics of "song" (See How Marine Mammals Communicate Using Sound). Scientists have discovered that these songs are produced by males on the breeding grounds. They contain both tonal and pulsed sounds and change from year to year. Recent studies have found that humpbacks continue to sing on their feeding grounds. It is thought that singing may function as male breeding displays, male-male social ordering, or a means for spacing reproductively active males. Humpback whales also produce rhythmic "feeding calls" that are usually about 2.5 seconds long at 500 Hz when on the high latitude feeding grounds.