The calls of Orca whales in the Pacific are getting longer, so they can be heard by other whales over the noise of heavy boat traffic. Orcas only do this when engine noise reaches a critical level.

Paul Rincon writes in that ironically, much of the boat noise that bothers them comes from whale-watching tourists. No difference was found in the length of their calls over the 1977-81 and 1989-92 period, but there was a 10-15% increase in the length of calls made by the Orcas during the 2001-03 period. Their numbers have dropped, so they also have to make their calls longer in order to reach each other. Background noise could eventually be the end of them, since they need to communicate and cooperate in order to find food.

Researcher Andrew Foote says, “The whale-watching vessels quite often act as a beacon attracting the tourist boats. This increases the amount of traffic around the whales even more. While the whale-watching vessels behave responsibly?try not to start their engines up when they’re on top of the whales and so on?the tourists aren’t always aware of quite how to behave with the whales.”

Researchers once thought Humpback whales only sang during their mating season, but now they’ve learned that they sing all year long. This was discovered when scientists heard them singing near Cape Cod in the “off-season,” when they spend most of their time eating. Whale biologist Phillip Clapham says, “It tells us whales don?t read the textbooks, which is really annoying.”

Bioacoustics expert Christopher W. Clark says, “I’m sure they were doing it (before). We just never listened?They’re supposed to be singing down in the Caribbean, where guys are on the corner and the girls are out in short skirts. They’re not supposed to be singing at suppertime.”

Humpback songs cover eight octaves, from a bass so low that humans can’t hear it up to a soprano. Their structured songs include multiple themes that are constantly repeated and last up to 30 minutes. Clark says they like to embellish, in order to see “who can improvise in some attractive way better than the other (whale).”

To hear a Humpback whale song, click here.

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