HUMPBACK WHALES BREEDING – Look and Legend
Here’s a program from our archives.
Off the coast of Mexico, a forbidding black form rises out of the water, and submerges. From the depths it makes a sound that you can hear through the hull of a ship. It’s a humpback whale, and it’s the time now of they’re breeding season. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
ambience: Humpback Whale Songs
Pacific humpback whales have migrated down from the North, where they feed during most of the year, to warmer breeding grounds in waters just south of Mexico. Pregnant females arrived first and gave birth to their new calves. The males and the rest of the females followed, and their mating season has begun.
Dr. David Mattila, a Senior Scientist at the Center for Coastal Research, tells us what it’s like to encounter one of these amazing creatures.
Mattila: Well, when you first see them, of course the size is what grabs you first. But then if you see them up close, humpback whales look kind of like a black dill pickle with wings, really. They have bumps on their head and they have these long, flippers, they’re about a third of the body length.
The sound we’re hearing is possibly the most distinctive feature of the humpback whale: its song. This is a specific call made only by males, and primarily at breeding season. Though scientists are still debating it’s exact meaning, the song may be the source of many of the legendary sea stories that have come down to us today.
Mattila: It certainly is possible that many of the myths and legends revolving around the ocean, things like the Sirens and the sea monsters probably originated in sailors hearing the sounds of humpback whales through the hull of the vessel. It’s a very loud sound. If you’re in the water within 100 yards of a whale singing, your whole body will vibrate from the sound, but you have to be fairly close to hear it coming through the hull. It certainly is an odd enough sequence of sounds that it could’ve contributed to many of the myths of the ocean.
I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.