4. How do scientists study whale sounds? What challenges do they face in tracking whale sounds over time?
5. How is the development of an individual whale’s song “one of the best examples of cultural evolution in the animal kingdom”? What are some of the hypotheses to explain why whales repeat, alter or begin new songs? Which do you find most convincing?
6. How have changes to the environment affected whales’ singing? What role has human behavior played?
Finally, tell us more about what you think:
— What did you learn from the article? What was most fascinating, surprising or intriguing? Tell us why. What questions do you still have?
— Does the article make you think differently about whales? Do you have a greater appreciation for the mysteries and diversity of life?
— Do you think research like this is important? How is the study of whale vocalizations helpful? Why or why not?
— In a related article, “Oceans Are Getting Louder, Posing Potential Threats to Marine Life,” Jim Robbins writes about the damage caused by noises from air guns, ship sonar and general tanker traffic:
Aside from the seismic noise, compounded sounds from container ships to navy sonar are posing a problem for marine life. As the number of ships moving around the world has increased significantly in recent years, cavitation, the noise from the synchronous collapse of bubbles created by a ship’s propeller, as well as the rumble of ship engines, poses a bigger and bigger problem. A recent study found that shipping noise could double by 2030.
Noise masks whale expressions between families, which can affect orientation, feeding, care of young, detection of prey and even increase aggression. Already 80 percent of communications of some species of whales is masked by noise, according to models assessed by a team of biologists.
“It’s ripping the communications system apart,” Dr. Clark said. “And every aspect of their lives is dependent on sound, including finding food.”
What is your reaction to this information? What should be done to better protect whales and their ability to communicate with one another?