How do whales communicate?

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The term whale is used to refer to a group of marine mammals, the cetaceans, within which are the mysticetes (Mysticeti), the so-called baleen whales due to the keratin sheets that allow them to filter their food, and the odontocetes ( Odontoceti), the so-called toothed whales. They are the largest animals that exist today, and are characterized by poorly developed smell and vision, which is why during their evolution they have developed an effective way of communicate in the water through complex sounds.

Thanks to this, they are able not only to communicate on different occasions, but also to orient themselves in the marine environment using these sounds like radar (echolocation), in addition to offering them a way to identify objects and potential dangers. This set of sounds varies throughout the life of the animal, depending on its sex, age and species. If you want to know more, don't miss this AnimalWised article where we will tell you all about How do whales communicate.

You may also be interested in: Characteristics of whales Index
  1. Communication in whales
  2. How far do whales communicate?
  3. The singing of the whales

Communication in whales

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the whales is their great communication skills. However, the two groups of whales, odontocetes and mysticetes, communicate in different ways..

¿How do odontocetes communicate?

In odontocetes, the song, as we will see later, does not occur as such, since they communicate through hissing or high-frequency sounds. These are called clicks, which have different tones, are used during echolocation and allow them to detect objects in their environment..

The clicks are produced when the air passes through the phonics lips (speaking lips), structures equivalent to the nostrils of humans and which are located on the head of this type of whale. The lips produce vibrations that are transmitted to the head to form sounds, to then be emitted in different directions, which is what is known as echolocation.

¿How the mysticetes communicate?

In the case of mysticetes, they are able to communicate in several ways:

  • By means of jumps: the mysticetes can send signals by means of jumps, a technique that is useful when another group is far away, being able to communicate up to more than 4 km. And it is that if the climatic conditions are not favorable, the sounds are dispersed more easily in the water, so that thanks to the jumps they produce sounds that expand to longer distances.
  • By flapping: they also use wingbeats to communicate between members of the same group, as well as if a new individual joins, and they are performed at any time by all members regardless of age or sex.
  • Through sounds: on the other hand, they produce sounds, being a very complex means of communication for whales, since they are composed of very elaborate and repeated notes that expand in the water until they reach their receiver. This mechanism is called echolocation, and it is basically the production of sound waves that expand in the water until it reaches another animal in the form of an echo, in this case another whale, and this analyzes the message in its brain. Likewise, if the waves meet other objects or animals during their journey, they bounce and expand in different directions, thus achieving not only communicating with other whales, but also recognizing their environment. This mechanism is highly efficient, since by having other less developed senses, vision and smell in some species of whales, they are able to feel the vibrations or echoes that come from a partner on their skin..

The composition of sounds are not only complex, but also organized, since they are made up of different themes composed of phrases and subphrases that are repeated over time. And if you were wondering what the sound of the whales is called, it is known as the song of the whales. This song evolves and even the same song is learned by other whales of different groups, so according to studies, this represents a practically cultural plasticity in these animals.

At what distance do whales communicate?

The sounds that whales make are capable of traveling many miles, but it will depend on the species. Some, like humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), are capable of producing their songs for hours and with such power that they can be heard out of the water..

In the sea, these sounds can travel thousands of kilometers away, and in the case of the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) the lower frequency sounds can travel up to more than 3,000 km, being able to generate, in addition, sounds so high of up to 190 decibels, making them the strongest an animal can produce.

The singing of the whales

As we now know, the sounds by which whales communicate are called singing, and it is so named because these sound patterns repeat over long periods of time, making it appear that they are singing. Sounds, like other types of communication in other animals, they serve to communicate to other individuals of the same species different types of information and at different times, either during mating, if there are potential dangers, during feeding (at this time it is called "feeding call "), to recognize the environment through which they are moving and even communicate their state of mind . Humpback whales, for example, use it mainly during the reproductive season to find a mate and to know if it is available to mate, both males and females. In addition, it is common for several individuals from the same group to sing the same song during migrations, so it helps them to stay together and guide each other..

Then ¿why do whales sing? These animals depend on their songs to travel the seas so much to hold together to members of the same group, such as to feed and be able to move precisely. For this reason, some studies have indicated that noise pollution from the fishing industry is seriously affecting the communication of cetaceans. This has led to the discontinuation of the use of military or scientific sonars in many regions, since they interfere with the communication of these animals and has led to many whale strandings..

It should also be said that the song of whales, similar to our languages ​​or dialects, is the same in the same group of individuals and from the same geographical area, but totally different in groups from other regions..

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