Humpback whale songs during winter in subarctic waters

20071115-bultrug-marsdiep-13mei-2The songs of the male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have traditionally been associated with mating at tropical and subtropical mating grounds during winter. However, songs also occur out of mating season, both on feeding grounds in spring, late summer and fall.


This study provides the first report of humpback whale singing behaviour in the subarctic waters off Northeast Iceland (Skjálfandi Bay) using long term bottom-moored acoustic recorders during September 2008-February 2009 and from April-September 2009. Singing started in late November and peaked in February, within the breeding season. No songs were detected from spring to fall, despite of visual detections of humpback whales.

Non-song sound signals from humpback whales were detected during all recording months. Songs were partly composed of fundamental units common with other known mating grounds, and partly of song units likely unique to the study area. The variety of song unit types in the songs increased at the end of the winter recordings, indicating a gradual change in the songs throughout
the winter season; as has been shown on traditional mating grounds. The relative proportion of songs compared to non-song signals was higher during dark hours than daylight hours. The short light periods of the winter, and where food is available, likely influence the daily occurrence of humpback whales’ songs in the subarctic.

The paper can be found at the Polar Biology website: >> Download