Blue Whales

Blue Whales

Music; Ambience: blue whale vocalization

They are the largest creatures that have ever lived on earth and they produce one of nature’s loudest sounds. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We’re listening to the sounds of Blue Whales recorded with underwater microphones. The sounds that the whales make are so low in pitch, they’re actually below the range of human hearing, so we’ve had to speed them up to make them audible.

“As the whale actually makes the sound, there are long calls that are about 20 seconds long and separated by another 30 seconds or so, and we speed them up so they’re about two seconds long and three seconds apart.”

Roger Bland is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at San Francisco State University. He’s been listening to the calls of Blue Whales, the basso profundos of the ocean soundscape, and he says that these sounds have some remarkable characteristics. For one thing, they can travel great distances.

“People think that whales can talk to each other over distances as great as 2,000 miles, something like that, and possibly as far away as Hawaii. Every blue whale in the ocean hears every other blue whale, and they’re all calling at exactly the same frequency. Pitch discrimination with whales is incredibly accurate. The whales produce this call always at exactly four octaves below middle C, and we’ve measured 6,000 whale calls.”

And how remarkable is that?

“As far as we know, it’sit’s unique among animals that make sounds and hear sounds.”

So, Blue Whales have better pitch discrimination than most humans. We don’t know why they make this constant sound. It may be a contact call – a way of saying I’m here, where are you?’ Or it could be a form of long distance echo-location – using these pulses of sound like sonar to help them navigate through the deep ocean environment.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Blue Whales

They dominate the ocean's soundscape with a pitch perfect trans-oceanic call.
Air Date:01/13/2011
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Blue Whales

Music; Ambience: blue whale vocalization

They are the largest creatures that have ever lived on earth and they produce one of nature's loudest sounds. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We're listening to the sounds of Blue Whales recorded with underwater microphones. The sounds that the whales make are so low in pitch, they're actually below the range of human hearing, so we've had to speed them up to make them audible.

"As the whale actually makes the sound, there are long calls that are about 20 seconds long and separated by another 30 seconds or so, and we speed them up so they're about two seconds long and three seconds apart."

Roger Bland is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at San Francisco State University. He's been listening to the calls of Blue Whales, the basso profundos of the ocean soundscape, and he says that these sounds have some remarkable characteristics. For one thing, they can travel great distances.

"People think that whales can talk to each other over distances as great as 2,000 miles, something like that, and possibly as far away as Hawaii. Every blue whale in the ocean hears every other blue whale, and they're all calling at exactly the same frequency. Pitch discrimination with whales is incredibly accurate. The whales produce this call always at exactly four octaves below middle C, and we've measured 6,000 whale calls."

And how remarkable is that?

"As far as we know, it'sit's unique among animals that make sounds and hear sounds."

So, Blue Whales have better pitch discrimination than most humans. We don't know why they make this constant sound. It may be a contact call - a way of saying I'm here, where are you?' Or it could be a form of long distance echo-location - using these pulses of sound like sonar to help them navigate through the deep ocean environment.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.