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Humpback Whales Sing for their Supper

Dec 17, 2014 01:33 PM EST

Humpback whales are known for their magical songs, crooning most likely as a way to communicate with others, but a new study shows that they even sing for their supper.

"Humpback whales are known to cooperate with others to corral prey near the surface," Susan Parks, assistant professor of biology at Syracuse University, said in a statement. "Recent studies suggest they may cooperate [with each other], when feeding on bottom prey, as well."

Finding snacks like krill, plankton and small fish on the seafloor, where there is little to no light, is tough. So to find their way and avoid going hungry, humpbacks make "tick-tock" noises while hunting together at night in deep, pitch-black water.

Aside from the abovementioned food, these whales mainly feed on sand lance at night - eel-like fish known to bury themselves in the sand of the ocean floor. Parks suggests that whales' vocal sounds may help flush the sand lance out of hiding to where they're scooped up and eaten.

But this neat ticking trick, while effective, is also like ringing the dinner bell for other whales nearby.

"Hints of behavior suggest that other whales who overhear the sounds are attracted to them and may eavesdrop on other whales hunting for food," Parks added.

The researcher and her colleagues tagged these ocean behemoths with special underwater recording devices so they could determine how specific acoustic sounds correlated with successful seafloor feeding. The "tick-tock" noises were only made at night when whales hunting in groups, and not when they were feeding alone.

These late-night crooners can be heard over great distances, their singing repertoire including moaning, howling and crying for hours on end, National Geographic notes. And though these sounds are well documented, their meaning is still a mystery. Scientists suspect that humpbacks sing to communicate with other members of their species and attract potential mates.

The study findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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