Whale sounds can be heard across an entire ocean given the right conditions. It is believed that cetaceans use these sounds for a variety of purposes including: finding mates, staking out a territory, long range navigation, and entertaining tourists. Well, perhaps not the latter, but go out on a whalewatching trip with a hydrophone and you'll be amazed how 'loud' the ocean can be!
It appears that all cetaceans make some form of sound. Fortunately these sounds are well within the range of our own hearing. But, our ears weren't designed to work underwater, so we need help. That comes in the form of an underwater microphone called a 'hydrophone'.
A hydrophone works in much the same way as the ear of a dolphin. It picks up underwater sounds as vibrations in the water and converts it to an electrical signal that can be heard through earphones, or a speaker system.
Scientists (and amateur whalewatchers, too!) record these sounds for analysis later. Often seemingly unimportant vocalizations can become valuable years or even decades later as our knowledge increases. If you decide to take up underwater listening as a hobby, your work may someday lead to new discoveries about cetacean language.
The most famous of the 'singing whales' is the humpback which populates most coastal regions of the world. Northern hemisphere humpbacks spend their summers (June-September) feeding in the arctic then migrate south to breeding grounds in the winters (December-February). Southern hemisphere humpbacks likewise feed in the food-rich antarctic waters during the southern summer (December-February) and migrate northwards to tropical breeding grounds in their winter (June-September). Only male humpbacks sing songs.
Even though sound can travel thousands of miles under the right conditions there is no evidence of communications between northern and southern hemisphere humpbacks. One reason may be that Northern and Southern hemisphere humpbacks are in the tropical waters during different times of the year.
It's not only humpbacks that make sound, belugas are often called the 'canaries of the sea' because of their varied vocalizations. Blues are able to make sounds that can be heard thousands of miles - across an entire ocean! While Orca, and pilot whales are known for their high frequency trills and whistles. Where they are, the surrounding ocean will be filled with sound.
For more information, look in the 'sound library and articles' section.
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