The hopeful song of whales heard in Antarctica

Whale singing is on the rise according to a study by Australian scientists. This suggests that the blue whale population in the Southern Ocean is recovering.

This cetacean once roamed the world's southernmost sea freely, but persecution and hunting has reduced its numbers. However, researchers have now observed an increase in the number of whale songs in the area, suggesting that their numbers are holding steady or increasing.

The largest animal that has ever inhabited the planet appears to be returning to its usual route. The study analyzed almost 3.900 hours of whale sounds recorded with underwater microphones, this implies that the ability to find samples has expanded or, in fact, we are facing a greater number of whale specimens, explained Brian Miller, principal scientist of the Antarctic Division. Australian. "It's both good news", said.

Whale song, although not yet fully understood, appears to serve several important functions for these majestic marine mammals.

Here are some possible reasons why whales sing:

  1. Communication: It is believed that whale singing can be a form of communication between individuals of the same species, whether to stay in contact, coordinate activities such as migration or hunting, or even to transmit information about the environment.
  2. Reproduction: In some whale species, such as humpback whales, singing plays a crucial role in the mating process. Males often sing to attract females and compete with other males for their attention.
  3. Navigation: Some theories suggest that whale songs can aid in navigation, especially in deep, dark waters where visibility is limited. This could help them find their way during long migrations.
  4. Echolocation: Although not all whale songs are used for echolocation, some species, such as sperm whales, make sounds to detect objects and prey in their environment.

The study to listen to the song of the whales

Specifically, the researchers spent more than 8 months at sea during 7 trips of almost 150.000 kilometers around Antarctica to analyze the songs of blue whales collected by floating "acoustic buoys" that act as "listening points for sounds." emitted by these animals in Antarctica".

The system even allows us to determine the location of the animal: "We can reliably listen to them, track them, and observe them, then photograph and track them, and even take small biopsies of their skin and fat for further study.".

During the period between 2006 and 2021, whale songs were heard more frequently. Over the years, hunting has reduced the number of Antarctic blue whales - a subgroup of the species - to 2.000 individuals, according to estimates published in 1998. While the numbers cannot be said to have increased, the study confirms that Whale songs are “predominantly greatest” in Antarctic regions, which is comparable to previous studies.

Professor Robert Harcourt, a marine ecologist at Macquarie University, said: "This is the first indication of what is happening to Antarctic blue whales… in a good 20 years […] All previous work was based on the 1950s, when we were killing them".

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the blue whale remains critically endangered, but its population is growing and ranges between 5.000 and 15.000 individuals.

"If you think about how we wiped them out and almost brought them to the brink of extinction, then the song of the whales telling us: 'I'm still here, here I am'” Miller concludes.

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