There are only about 30 North Pacific right whales left in the world

By Helen Murphy
June 20, 2019 02:22 PM
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Credit: AP/Shutterstock

Marine biologists have recorded singing from the rare North Pacific right whale for the first time.

According to the Associated Press, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used moored acoustic recorders to capture the sounds of the extremely endangered animal, which can be heard in a video from the AP.

Whales use sounds and calls to communicate with one another, and a pattern of predictable sounds strung together makes up a unique “song.”

“It’s a series of sounds that are reproduced in a stereotyped, regular manner that are repeated over and over,” NOAA Fisheries marine biologist Jessica Crance explained, according to the AP.

Over the course of eight years, researchers had detected four different songs in five locations in the Bering Sea off of the coast of Alaska. The scientists suspected they had come from North Pacific right whales, a theory that took seven years to confirm.

“It was great to finally get the confirmation when we were out at sea that yes, it is a right whale, and it’s a male that’s singing,” Crance said of their breakthrough in 2017. Two years later, the biologists were finally able to capture the song on a recorder.

There are only about 30 North Pacific right whales left in the world, according to the AP, as whalers have killed off most of the slow-moving animals.

The sounds made by right whales include a call that sounds like a gunshot, as well as warbles, upcalls and downcalls.

Crance shared two theories about why the North Pacific right whales might be singing so much.

“It could be that there are so few of them left, they feel the need to call more frequently or sing,” Crance said, the AP reports. “This is entirely speculation, but perhaps they’re copying humpbacks, a little bit.”

On the other hand, the singing males could be trying to attract a female whale: “With only 30 animals, finding a mate must be difficult,” Crance added.