The Singer

Among  the biggest sea mammals (they can weigh up to 45 tons and be 17 metres long), the humpback whales can emit the longest and the most complex songs in  the whole animal world.

Thanks to this means of communication, the whales can hear and be heard from hundreds of kilometres. According to the latest study, it is admitted that these songs are used by males for other males meetings, in order to organise their sexual activity and to attract females more easily.

The whale does not have any phonic lips structure. The larynx plays a part when it produces a sound, but the whale does not have voice cords and the exact process still remains quite obscure. The whales do not sing like human beings, but they can emit sounds without breathing out. The sounds are produced by air transfer between the various air organs (mainly the lungs and cranial sinus) in a closed circuit.

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The song of the humpback whale varies from 20 Hz to10 kHz, which makes it perfectly audible for humans. This song is composed of different themes (about 6), which are made up of several melodic phrases (melodies), and each one of them is constituted of under-phrases containing the notes. The whale can change the notes amplitude and frequency. The song consists in repeating these themes in a precise order : there is neither improvisation nor coincidence; it sounds as if the singer was faithfully playing a score.
A song lasts an average of 20 minutes, but it can be as long as 45 minutes during which the animal, head down, does not breathe, and is often at a depth between 15 and 20 metres. It seems that the older the animal grows, the wider its range of melodies, and the better it can sing.

 

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