Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Whale's Wails Are Out of Tune

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Blue and fin whales are among the loudest animals in the oceans, as well as the largest. Only males sing, and their songs can travel more than 1000 km underwater, allowing them to communicate across vast oceans.

Blue whales have been dropping pitch incrementally over several decades, and now a study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (https://goo.gl/dEGvqJ) has announced that this is also occurring with fin whales and Madagascan pygmy blue whales – and speculated why this might be occurring.

Lead author Dr Emmanuelle Leroy of the University of NSW analysed more than a million songs from three species of large baleen whale: fin, Antarctic blue and three acoustically distinct populations of pygmy blue whales. Six stationary underwater microphones recorded the calls over 6 years in the southern Indian Ocean, an area spanning 9 million km2.

The study measured the pitch of elements of each species’ song, which had fallen to about 25.6 Hz for the Antarctic blue whale by the end of 2015. In 2002, the pitch of the selected element of the blue whales’ call had been 27.5 Hz, a difference equivalent in Western music to a whole tone or major second interval (for a recording comparing the two see https://goo.gl/xijiPX...