2009 04 30 Wake up on Challenger Bank and with daybreak the songs stop Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   

Woke up to a beautiful calm morning on Challenger Bank but with the sunrise, the whale song stopped. We saw whales as day broke but they proved elusive diving for 18 to 20 minutes at a time for the rest of the day. Pickings have definitely slimmed right down now.


Throughout the morning and afternoon the whales proved to be difficult to keep in contact with, although we did manage to obtain several fluke id photographs including a couple of lovely ones lit by the early morning sun. It was a lot of work, two days on Challenger, just for several fluke ids. But with something like 180+ fluke ids this season alone (I haven't had the time to process them all yet) there are some interesting patterns becoming increasingly apparent about the humpback whales' migration patterns. With only 140 fluke ids taken in Bermuda from 1968 to 2006 (an average of 3 1/2 per day) we are now finally getting enough raw data to base scientific observations on. We have something like 50+ matches this season (again, we haven't managed to process them all yet, something that takes an inordinate amount of time). The remaining unmatched fluke ids are apparently whales that have been photographed and id-ed here for the first time ever, anywhere.

At one point in the morning we spotted a whale in the distance, drove over to where we had seen it and put the engine in idle and waited. I vaguely imagined I heard a whale singing but thought it was just wishful thinking and started to recount to Kevin and Michael how last year in Hawaii I had been with Dr Jim Darling, one of the foremost authorities on whale song. He had seen a whale some hundreds of yards away, told me he thought it was a singer, drove the boat over there and turned the engine off. Immediately we heard whale song as if there were amplifiers on the boat. Jim had parked the boat right above the singer and we could hear his song reverberate through the hull of his small center console outboard boat. When I finished the story we sat there quietly looking for the elusive whale when we realized we were listening to the whale somewhere underneath us. Despite the much bigger boat with a thicker hull, and the fact that we were on the upper deck and the engine was idling, we could hear the whale singing. Michael thought I had played a trick on them and was playing back the recorder with songs we had heard during the night. We turned the engine off and eventually the whale sufaced some 30 yards away. It was however the only song we heard that day, but impressive for being heard so readily through the hull of a trawler.

Based on this trip, when we heard so much singing, I have some intriguing observations on the North Atlantic humpback whale songs (which was one thing we did have a lot of on this overnight trip that made it so worthwhile) that goes counter to observations on whale songs elsewhere. I will have to hold back on making those observations public until I have had more time to examine the songs carefully. Michael below, with his camera always at the ready!



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