New discovery of songful bowheads

It’s always a delight to learn something new about ocean life. Some 40 years ago whale researcher Roger Payne came to understand that Humpback whales sang complex, beautiful, and patterned songs. Their haunting melodies released in an LP as “The Songs of the Humpback Whale” became the first “Gold Album” by animals, the mortarboard for the “Save the Whales” campaign, and a banner for the environmental movement of the 1970’s.

So it was a double delight that Kate Stafford, Sue Moore and colleagues recently discovered that the Arctic Bowhead whales between Greenland and Norway have a complex repertoire of songs they sing throughout the winter. The implications of their work are discussed in a recent University of Washington news article, and in a New York Times article on Tuesday.

Bowhead whale

Bowhead whale, Photo: Life of Sea

While the songs of the Bowhead whale may not become a “Gold Album,” perhaps the revelation that these animals express a complex relationship to their surroundings will wake us up to the understanding that their habitat is embellished, complex, and threatened.

Just as scientists uncover the acoustic mysteries of the Arctic it is being set upon by the Oilmen – with seismic surveys, ice-breaking work vessels, underwater communication systems, seafloor processing equipment, and all manner of noises that will likely mask the songs of these majestic beasts.

Hopefully the work of Kate Stafford and Sue Moore will usher in a new concern for the Arctic acoustic environment and the animals that call it home.

The peer reviewed paper in Endangered Species Research tells of their findings.

I hope you find them informative and enjoyable.