Nav: Home

Voice control: Why North Atlantic right whales change calls as they age

February 26, 2018

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Former Syracuse postdoctoral researcher Holly Root-Gutteridge has always been a good listener - a trait that has served her very well in her bioacoustic research of mammals, both aquatic and landlocked. Most recently her ears have tuned-in to vocal stylings of the North Atlantic right whale.

Through extensive listening and analysis of whale calls--which were recorded by a large collaboration of scientists over the past two decades--Root-Gutteridge was able to pick up the slow gradual changes in sound production in the marine giants as they age. Looking at spectrograms of the calls, which provide visual representations of the sound, the research team could see the progression of vocal characteristics of the animals from calf throughout adulthood.

The whales produced clearer, longer calls with age, a trend that did not end when they reached physical maturity, as had been predicted.

"We're learning that these right whales can have more control of their voices," explains the bioacoustics researcher. "That means they may be sending more complex information than we previously thought."

Through continued study, Root-Gutteridge believes that scientists will be able to better understand how whales communicate in the wild, which can lead to stronger worldwide conservation efforts of the sea mammals.

Root-Gutteridge's newest investigation "A lifetime of changing calls: North Atlantic right whales, Eubalaena Glacialis, refine call production as they age", a collaborative research project with researchers from Syracuse University, Cornell University, Duke University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northeast fisheries office, was recently published in the March edition of the journal Animal Behaviour. The paper is based on work that was done while she was a researcher in the lab of Associate Professor, Susan Parks.

While still at Syracuse, Root-Gutteridge turned heads around the world with her wolf dialect research back in 2016. Contrasting the recordings of over 2,000 howls from 13 different species and subspecies of wolves, the biologist discovered that wolves, much like people, have regional vocalization patterns, or dialects, depending on their locale.

"I learned a lot at Syracuse as I'd never studied marine mammals before. I know a lot more about whales and their songs and have developed some great skills in analyzing animal sound," says Root-Gutteridge. "I also have a much better understanding of how tough it is to study marine mammals as their home ranges are just so big. When I studied wolves, I thought 25 square miles was a lot of territory to cover, but the whales swim all the way up and down the East Coast!"

Since finishing at Syracuse, her work has literally gone to the dogs. Root-Gutteridge is currently at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom where her next bioacoustics project, "How Dogs Hear Us: Human speech perception by domestic dogs," explores what animals of the canine persuasion hear when humans speak.
-end-


Syracuse University

Related Whales Articles:

Solar storms could scramble whales' navigational sense
When our sun belches out a hot stream of charged particles in Earth's general direction, it doesn't just mess up communications satellites.
A better pregnancy test for whales
To determine whale pregnancy, researchers have relied on visual cues or hormone tests of blubber collected via darts, but the results were often inconclusive.
Why whales are so big, but not bigger
Whales' large bodies help them consume their prey at high efficiencies, a more than decade-long study of around 300 tagged whales now shows, but their gigantism is limited by prey availability and foraging efficiency.
Whales stop being socialites when boats are about
The noise and presence of boats can harm humpback whales' ability to communicate and socialise, in some cases reducing their communication range by a factor of four.
Endangered whales react to environmental changes
Some 'canaries' are 50 feet long, weigh 70 tons, and are nowhere near a coal mine.
Stranded whales detected from space
A new technique for analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space.
Hush, little baby: Mother right whales 'whisper' to calves
A recent study led by Syracuse University biology professor Susan Parks in Biology Letters explores whether right whale mother-calf pairs change their vocalizations to keep predators from detecting them.
Researchers use drones to weigh whales
Researchers from Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS) in Denmark and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the US devised a way to accurately estimate the weight of free-living whales using only aerial images taken by drones.
Plastic in Britain's seals, dolphins and whales
Microplastics have been found in the guts of every marine mammal examined in a new study of animals washed up on Britain's shores.
Groups of pilot whales have their own dialects
A new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that short-finned pilot whales living off the coast of Hawai'i have their own sorts of vocal dialects, a discovery that may help researchers understand the whales' complex social structure.
More Whales News and Whales Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.