HORSEY SOUNDS.  DRIPPING WATER.  AHOOGAS.  It may come as a surprise, but humpbacks have a diverse and colorful vocal repertoire, and they like to chatter! For two field seasons, AWF student interns drifted quietly in front of AWF’s research station at the historic Five Fingers Lighthouse and listened to humpback whales talk amongst themselves. Working in teams, some students observed the behavior of the whales from the lighthouse tower, while others floated nearby recording their vocalizations with hydrophones - underwater microphones.

Little is known about the role that communication plays among humpback whales.  With this in mind, AWF analyzed hundreds of humpback vocalizations recorded at the lighthouse. Humans are champion acoustic discriminators, so AWF worked with student volunteers to detect subtle differences among vocalizations and classify them into different ‘call types’. The classification scheme was then corroborated with statistical analysis techniques.  As a result, AWF created the first comprehensive catalog of vocalizations produced by humpback whales on their foraging grounds.

EAR TO THE HYDROPHONE Michelle Fournet takes a turn listening to the humpbacks with a pair of hydrophones.  Fournet, an Oregon State University graduate student, lived full time in the lighthouse and coordinated the efforts of student volunteers.

EAR TO THE HYDROPHONE Michelle Fournet takes a turn listening to the humpbacks with a pair of hydrophones.  Fournet, an Oregon State University graduate student, lived full time in the lighthouse and coordinated the efforts of student volunteers.

A LONG WAY FROM HOME. Student volunteers traveled from around the world to study humpback vocalizations with AWF in Frederick Sound, Southeast Alaska

A LONG WAY FROM HOME. Student volunteers traveled from around the world to study humpback vocalizations with AWF in Frederick Sound, Southeast Alaska

With the catalog complete, the next step is to investigate the role that these vocalizations play among foraging whales. This will involve correlating the various vocalizations with specific whale behavioral and social patterns observed from the lighthouse tower. Ultimately, we hope to use this information to anticipate some of the consequences humpbacks will face as ocean noise continues to rise.

CLICK HERE to read Michelle Fournet's Master's thesis on humpback whale communication, or HERE to read Fournet and Dr. Szabo's publication on classification of non-song calls in Southeast Alaskan humpback whales.


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