Study Finds Right Whale Voice Changes Mimic other Mammals

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

WOODS HOLE – Researchers have found that North Atlantic right whale calls change as the marine mammals age, much like human voices.

In a study recently published in “Animal Behaviour,” scientists examined almost 1,000 high quality calls from 49 right whales with known ages spanning from 1 month to 37 years.

Like infants of humans and other mammals, calls made by whales under a year old were shorter and less structured than adult sounds.

“Acoustic maturation does not stop when a female right whale reaches sexual maturity at about age 9 and for males around 15,” said Sofie Van Parijs, leader of the passive acoustic program at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. and a co-author of the study.

“The calls continue to develop as the animal ages, decades after it is physically mature. The frequency and duration of these calls may be able to tell us about body weight and size, and physical condition, including stamina.”

Calls were analyzed for five age groups. Sub-adults were divided into two groups: calves less than one year old and juveniles 1-8 years old. Adults were split into three groups: ages 9-14, 15-25, and 25 and older. Right whales are thought to have a life span of 65 or more years.

Previous studies have shown they have complex, information-rich calls and a large repertoire, including quick gunshot and constant frequency tonal calls, high to low sweeping “down-calls,” and low to high-sweeping “upcalls.”Upcalls are used by all ages of right whales as contact calls between individuals.

Right whales are critically endangered with a declining population around 430.

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