When oceanographer listened to the audio picked up by a recording device that spent a year in the icy waters off the east coast of Greenland, she was stunned at what she heard: whales singing a remarkable variety of songs nearly constantly for five wintertime months.
Only around 40 sightings of these whales, which were hunted almost to extinction, have been reported there since the 1970s. The fact that they’re singing again shows that, despite many horrible incidents, they’re happy again.
Kate Stafford wanted to discover if any endangered bowhead whales passed through the Fram Strait, an inhospitable, ice-covered stretch of sea between Greenland and the northern islands of Norway. She put two hydrophones, or underwater microphones, on moorings attached to the seafloor, leaving them there for as long as the batteries would last, which was nearly a year. Since the population of bowhead whales likely to pass through was thought to number in the tens, she didn’t anticipate much interesting data. Stafford says, "We hoped to record a few little grunts and moans. We were not expecting to get five months of straight singing."
Not only did her team record singing nearly every hour of the day and night, they picked up more than 60 unique songs. The variety of tunes was so surprising that the researchers compared the whales’ song catalog to that of birds.
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