Though the vocalizations of killer whales is one of the most complex, especially given the fact that there are various killer whale accents and dialects within the species, the calls of the humpback whale may be the most popular. Humpback whale songs became popular in the 1970s after recording technology allowed researchers to be able to make extended recordings of this animal that helped introduce the humpback whale to people around the world who previously knew nothing about this massive and magnificent creature.
The humpback whale song is thought to be a male breeding display that is prominent in their wintering grounds and previously thought to be quite rare in the feeding areas. It is called a song because it is a long, complex vocalization that repeats in a predictable pattern. Whale song recordings from Glacier Bay have been made only in the fall, when perhaps the hormonal changes that spur whales to migrate are beginning to occur.
Feeding call is a stereotyped vocalization typically used during humpback whale coordinated group feeding. In the Glacier Bay area, it typically occurs 15-20 seconds before a group of whales all surface together after a foraging dive. This specialized call is common in some localities but rare in others. It may be used for group coordination, (ready, set, go!) or to scare/concentrate the schooling fish that are their prey.
Bubblenet feeding is a unique feeding technique humpback whales employ where a group of whales works together to swim in shrinking circles blowing bubbles to the surface. The rising bubbles force the fish toward the surface and concentrated into a ball, which makes it easier for the whales to feed upon.
The most common humpback whale vocalization in Bartlett Cove is the simple “whup” – a call made with no discernable pattern. Another vocalization that is common is a “moo.”
Whales can also make non-vocal sounds by slapping their tail, flippers or other body parts on the water (for example during a breach). These sounds can carry for hundreds of meters and seem to provide another way for whales to communicate with one another over distance. As you will hear twice near the end of the cut titled “wheezeblow etc” even the whale’s breathing can be audible at some distance, especially wheeze blows.
Motor boat and whale
In this recording, the sound of repeated tail slaps overlaps with the loud, high-pitched whining of a propeller in bad repair, perhaps indicating that the sound disturbed the whale. There may never be a way to test how much manmade sounds in the ocean negatively affect whales, but even the United States Navy acknowledged the likely harmful influence sonar testing has on aquatic animals, especially whales, in the 2015 announcement that the U.S. Navy would limit sonar testing.