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Blue whales change their tune

February 15, 2010

I hope you all had a great Valentine’s weekend, Chinese New Year and President’s Day! I’ve enjoyed the time to relax, watch the olympics and catch up on a few news stories. I recently heard an interesting podcast from NPR about blue whales’ mating songs and wanted to share it all with you in the Valentine’s spirit.

Blue whale colonies suffered severe devestation during the 1900s. During this decline in population, male whales were left with a much smaller selection of females so when it came time to attract a mate, they had to work a little bit harder. Normally, they sing in a relatively low-pitch frequency but during the population decline, something interesting happened: they raised the pitch of their call to reach a greater number of females. As NPR stated, “the guys had to shout to be heard.”

When hunting of blue whales was finally banned in 1966, populations were able to steadily increase and males once again had their pick of females. John Hildebrand of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography noticed a new pattern with this increase — the male blue whales have now returned to singing in a much lower pitch. John Hildebrand says the pitch has gone down roughly 30% from its 1960s level. That’s a huge change! You can listen to the blue whale’s song here.

It can only be speculated why, but many species have historically been attracted to a man with a lower, more powerful voice. Even us! Think about it, if you hear a man with a high voice or one with a sturdy, low voice which are you more attracted to (eyes closed)? Yep, well, the same goes for whales.

I think it’s so incredible how quickly species can adapt. Whether it’s instinct, intelligence, or something else that drives change, it’s impressive. But I mean hey, it can be a lonely ocean out there without a mate…

photo credit: flickr user nhanusek under creative commons license

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