Researchers Use Whale Songs To Discover An Unknown Blue Whale Population

The Earth’s oceans are a source of wonderment for people around the world. They also are a source of mystery, but sometimes a piece of the mystery unravels in front of our very eyes.

That is exactly what happened in the northwestern Indian Ocean, thanks to a unique whale song.

According to experts that took part in the study, a recording of the unique song was picked up at three different locations: the Chagos Archipelago, Madagascar, and Oman’s Arabian Sea coast. Those songs have led them to a blue whale population that was previously unknown.

For years, experts have thought that the northern Indian Ocean was home to a population of blue whales. Up until this point, whales that were spotted in the area were thought to be from the population located near Sri Lanka.

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They were able to use the recordings to determine that a unique song was being used by that population, meaning they were different than the others.

Salvatore Cerchio, a Marine mammal biologist from the African Aquatic Conservation Fund’s Cetacean Program in Massachusetts, made it easy to understand. According to The New York Times, he said that the songs sung by whales are like listening to different songs within a genre, such as BB King vs. Stevie Ray Vaughan.

He went on to say: “It’s all blues, but you know the different styles. It was quite remarkable, to find a whale song in your data that was completely unique, never before reported, and recognize it as a blue whale.”

According to his research, a number of blue whale populations were identified throughout the Indian Ocean based on those distinct songs. When you stop to think about all of the work that has taken place on blue whale songs, it’s amazing that nobody knew about these whales until recent years.

In 2017, the whale song was picked up in the Mozambique Channel off the coast of Madagascar by Cerchio and his team. In 2018, they presented the findings and other marine biologists noticed that they recorded a similar song at the Chagos Archipelago.

This led them to the conclusion that this population must spend most of its time in the northwestern Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Chagos islands.

A representative from Five Oceans Environmental Services LLC, Andrew Willson, was key in the recording operation. As The New York Times reported, he said:

“Before our recording effort off Oman, there was no acoustic data from the Arabian Sea, and so the identity of that population of blue whales was initially just a guess.

Our work shows that there is a lot more to learn about these animals, and this is an urgent requirement in light of the wide range of threats to large whales related to expanding maritime industries in the region.”

Hunting has caused the population of blue whales to drop drastically during the 20th century. Commercial whaling has been restricted in recent years, leading to a slow increase in the population.

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