How Do Whales Talk? Whale 'Talking' Different From Singing, Scientists Discover
People normally flock to ocean parks and bodies of water to see the spectacle that are whales touring the waters and splashing all around. Their fins slap on the water with a beauty that is truly unique to their kind. But scientists discover they're not just doing it to show off -- they're actually talking.
According to New Scientist, "splashing" is an indication of whales talking with each other. The bigger the splashes are, the farther they are trying to communicate.
Ailbhe Kavanagh of the University of Queensland and her colleagues studied 94 different groups of humpback whales that are currently migrating south along the Queensland coast in 2010 and 2011. According to New Scientist, humpback whales regularly leap out of the water and twist to their backs.
Known as breaching, this is followed by slapping their fins and tails in a repetitive fashion. The resulting sounds underwater are indicative of communication.
The team found evidence of this as it appears whales are more likely to breach when the nearest other group was more than four kilometers away, suggesting that the sounds of the breaching were used to signal to distant groups.
Meanwhile, the repetitive tail and pectoral-fin slapping appear to be used for close-range communication. Behavior like this was apparent just before new whales join the group or if the group splits up.
It is important for migrating whales to conserve energy as they do not eat a lot during this period. Kavanagh says that the fact that these slapping actions were regular and vigorous means it holds something of importance to their activities.
According to New Scientist, this is vastly different from the vocal sounds such as grunts, groans, barks and grumbles that they produce. The male whales "sing" in order to serenade females as well.
The study figured out that the breaching and slapping also increased when the wind picked up, or possibly because vocal sounds became less audible. Joshua Smith at Murdoch University also said that while surface-active behaviors give out information such as location, the succession of these sounds may give more information.
Another theory is that breaching is used to "dislodge" parasites from the skin, but now a lot of scientists are convinced this truly is a new method of communication.