Kemo D. (kemo_d7) wrote,
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Humpback Whales

Why Whales Sing
Humpback whales may sing not to court mates but to help explore the seas around them.
 
When a male humpback moves someplace new, he changes his song to match those coming from other nearby whales. "The traditional explanation for why whales do this is that male whales are singing to seduce female whales, and that females get really turned on by songs that are currently in style," said neuroscientist Eduardo Mercado. 

"A song that does not follow the most recent trends might be viewed as passé by females, so singers would need to keep current to compete."
 
But instead of learning songs to better attract females, Mercado suggests humpbacks do so to help navigate new locales.
 
Complex Habitat
 
In the complex underwater habitats where humpbacks live, figuring out where other whales are, just by listening, can prove quite challenging.
 
Mercado suggests that singers can improve their ability to pinpoint other whales by learning their songs. By comparing incoming sounds that were likely degraded by journeying through the ocean with memories of pristine versions of those sounds, the whales can use any distortion they hear to judge the distance the sound has traveled.
 
"By analogy, a baseball player's knowledge about the size of a baseball can help him to judge when and where a fly ball will land," Mercado said. "This is the same basic process that bats, dolphins, and sonar operators use when they compare echoes to the signals that generated those echoes to locate and track targets."
 
Only male humpbacks learn songs, a fact that long suggested they do it to court females. "But I think they're the ones who learn songs because they're the ones who go and search for mates, while females are the ones who wait to get found,” says Mercado.
 
Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology bioacoustician Whitlow Au, who did not participate in this study, agreed the reason why humpbacks sing remains unclear, and "any idea that might make sense is welcome." He said Mercardo's idea was interesting and reasonable, "but whether or not it is right is still to be determined."

Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)
Tags: science
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