Humpback whales found singing off the coast of New York

Using underwater sound recording equipment, scientists have found the first evidence of humpback whales singing off the coast of New York, far from their typical Caribbean breeding grounds.

The findings, published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, marks the first peer-reviewed account of the acoustic display by humpbacks in the area, although sightings of the mammal in the New York Bight have increased in recent years.

“By listening for humpback whales in waters off New York, we found exciting evidence of humpback whale presence in winter and spring, which emphasises both the conservation needs for this area and the many questions we still have about humpback whale occurrence in this habitat,” Julia Zeh, study co-author from Syracuse University, said in a statement.

In the research, the scientists analysed analysed 6,305 hours of humpback whale vocalisations captured by acoustic recorders placed on the seafloor 113 km (70 miles) south of Long Island in the New York Bight.

While the sounds in the research were captured during a 2008-2009 study, the scientists said the data was analysed specifically for the occurrence of humpback whales “only recently.”

“All of a sudden there in the background, it starts kind of quiet and then gets louder. I was so excited to hear it!” Zeh told CBS.

According to the scientists, it was unusual to hear them singing so far north and outside their usual mating season.

The acoustic recorders placed on the ocean floor provide an opportunity to detect vocalising whales year-round, complementing visual surveys, and can aid future conservation efforts to protect the marine mammals in one of the world’s busiest waterways, the researchers said.

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They believe the method can also provide a more complete picture of when the whales are present in the New York Bight.

Earlier studies had shown that male humpback whales produce songs as a seasonal breeding display, while some calls produced under different social contexts by males, females, sub-adults and calves are typically when the animals are close together.

“The more we know about how and when whales use these areas, the more we can make informed decisions on how to better protect them in some of the busiest commercial waters on the planet.” Howard Rosenbaum from the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York said in a statement.


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