In Search of Humpback Whales

Nature, Series 8 Episode 3 of 7

Every year between January and April, Humpback whales from all around the North Atlantic Ocean gather in an area called Silver Bank 100km north of the Dominican Republic to breed. After calving, the whales migrate north from these lower latitudes to their high latitude, summer feeding grounds.
In June, wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson travelled to Husavik on the north coast of Iceland where he joined a whale watching trip to look for Humpback whales on their feeding grounds - and perhaps even see some of the same animals which he had recorded on their breeding grounds earlier in the year.
For many years scientists thought that male humpbacks whales only sing on their breeding grounds but in Iceland, Marianne Rasmussen and her PhD student have recorded whales singing on their feeding grounds in winter during the past four years. This has also been observed elsewhere, and one theory is that these are young immature whales singing. The songs of Humpback whales are quite astonishing; "gorgeous peals of sound, sounded like everything that a cello can do .. and organised as though it were part of a song" says Katy Payne who studied the evolving nature of these songs. The whales in any single population sing the same song, but the songs gradually evolve and change over time, for reasons which are not fully understood. There is still much debate as to why males sing; one theory is that it's to stimulate the females into oestrous. At Silver Bank, Chris found himself surrounded by whales hanging vertically, head down, motionless in the shallow waters created by a coral platform. When he lowered a pair of hydrophones (underwater microphones) beneath the boat, the clear waters were filled with the beautiful, haunting songs of Humpback whales.
Producer Sarah Blunt.

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28 minutes

Last on

Mon 24 Feb 2014 21:00

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