Male Fin Whales Spread Their Songs Around the Seas, Scientists Discover

November 18, 2020 at 3:39 pm

Migrating fin whales teach each other their tunes, so their unique songs can be heard all around the ocean

Male fin whales engage in a fascinating song swapping behavior, a new study reveals.

Previously whale “songs” were thought to be quite simple. Scientists thought individual whales knew only one distinct song pattern, which helped it identify other members of its group. But now they’ve discovered each male fin whale can possess dozens of songs in his repertoire, tunes he picks up from other whale groups as he migrates around the ocean.

“Male fin whales in the Pacific sing just two very low notes, which are produced in different rhythms to create song,” Dr. Tyler Helble of the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific tells

“Previously, some marine mammal scientists thought that fin whales each sang a single pattern of notes, which was found only within their specific group and region. Our research indicates that fin whale song is more complex than this.”

“The fin whale song is more fluid than previously thought, and the song may change through cultural transmission between populations,” study coauthor Regina Guazzo tells Treehugger.

Fin whales have complex migration routes, traveling seasonally from breeding to feeding locations. It’s during these migrations that the males are probably sharing their songs with males from other groups, researchers say.

Their are various purposes of the males’ haunting vocalizations – to attract mates, to communicate their location, or to determine the friendliness of other males.

Fin whales are an endangered species. An estimated 750,000 were killed in the 1970’s for their fat, bones and oil. Now their population is estimated at around 100,000.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty around the fin whale population size and structure in the North Pacific, and so learning about the song could help us understand population dynamics in this region much better,” Helble says.