See (and hear) the stunning diversity of bowhead whales’ songs | Science News

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See (and hear) the stunning diversity of bowhead whales’ songs

The animals sing 184 different melodies in the dark waters beneath Arctic ice

7:00am, April 30, 2018
bowhead whale

BLOW HARD  Bowhead whales sing a huge variety of songs beneath the sea ice, especially when searching for a mate, a new study finds.

In the pitch-black waters beneath the Arctic ice, bowhead whales get funky. A small population of endangered bowheads belt an unusually varied repertoire of songs, which grows more diverse during mating season.

Hunted to near extinction in the 1600s, these fire truck–sized mammals now number in the 300s in the frigid waters around the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. Underwater audio recorders captured the whales singing 184 acoustically distinct songs from October to April in 2010 through 2014.

On the bowhead charts, a song's popularity is fleeting. Most recorded songs were heard for less than 100 hours total, although one song registered over 730 hours total. Some songs appeared in more than one month, but none repeated annually. December and January, likely the height of breeding season, saw a wider array of new

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