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Baby Humpback Whales ‘Whisper’ To Moms For Survival

First Posted: Apr 27, 2017 05:16 AM EDT
Whale Watching Season Underway In Sydney
A humpback whale is seen breaching outside of Sydney Heads at the beginning of whale watching season during a Manly Whale Watching tour.
(Photo : Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

It is a known fact that whales "sing" to communicate -- their "songs" can be heard up to 20 miles away. However, a new discovery showed that whales do not just sing their haunting tunes, the young ones actually whisper to their parents as a way to protect themselves from predators.

These "whispers" were described in the journal Functional Ecology as "quiet grunts and squeaks" and were said to only be heard at close range. By calling to its mother, the calf is less likely to be overheard by their main predators -- the killer whales.

BBC News reported that a team from Aarhus University in Denmark tracked eight baby whales and two mothers to learn about the first months of a humpback whale's life. With the help of special sound and movement recorders attached to the whale's skin, Dr. Simone Videsen and his team were able to hear the quiet whispers from the baby whales to their mothers.

Dr. Videsen said that she and her team were surprised with this revelation because "humpback whales are really vocal normally." She also stated that they usually have long songs to communicate with each other. The communication pattern between mother and calf, however, were noted to be weaker.

Dr. Videsen noted that the whispering may be due to the danger lurking near the calves in the water. She said that orcas in the area predate on humpback whale calves, so the sounds between mother and calf are like homing cues.

But why are these calves even saying anything if the waters are too dangerous for them? The researchers found that baby whales usually whisper when they are swimming so that their mothers help keep track of their young in murky waters.

Humpback whales will have to protect each other from their predators, especially considering that they are slow to reproduce. Humpback whale pregnancies last for 11 months, and calves then stay with their mothers until they are a year old.

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