Pacific WildLife Foundation Director Jim Darling has been researching humpback whale behaviour for many decades. His recent research has been focussing on the songs of humpbacks in Hawaii where Rod MacVicar also from PWLF, and I joined him this past week.
About 10,000 humpbacks that spend the summer along the BC coast and southeast Alaska migrate to the warm tropical waters around Hawaii for the winter. They are arriving now and we set off to try to record some songs of the whales early in the season. This research is led by Whale Trust in Hawaii. We helped to set up the boats and run some of the recording equipment for Jim.
Male humpbacks sing by uttering a series of squeals and grunts while suspended about 10 meters below the surface. The sing for about 10 minutes, surface for 3 or 4 deep breaths and return to their positions. The work required locating a singer and recording a full song between surface breaths. Jim managed to get a few songs augmented by photos of the under tail markings that allow each animal to be identified. On a few occasions we watched skirmishes between whales likely jostling to breed with fertile females. This work entails are great deal of patience. Most of the action takes place underwater and out of sight so piecing together the puzzle of why whales sing is a challenge.
I will be posting photos and more information on the project on the Pacific WildLife Foundation website.