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How do whales sing a song?

Updated on: 23 February,2024 07:47 AM IST  |  London
Agencies |

Experts say the discovery will direct future research into how whales communicate

How do whales sing a song?

Humpback whales are known to compose elaborate songs. Pic/AP

Whales sing loud enough that their songs travel through the ocean, but knowing the mechanics behind that has been a mystery. Scientists now think they have an idea, and it’s something not seen in other animals: a specialised voice box. Experts say the discovery will direct future research into how whales communicate.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, Coen Elemans of the University of Southern Denmark and colleagues studied the voice boxes, or larynxes, from three dead, stranded whales—a humpback, minke and sei—all baleen whales.

In the laboratory, the scientists blew air through the voice boxes under controlled conditions to see what tissues might vibrate. They also created computer models of the sei whale’s vocalisations and matched them to recordings of similar whales taken in the wild.

Baleen whales don’t have teeth or vocal chords. Instead, in their voice boxes, they have a U-shaped tissue that allows them to breathe in massive amounts of air and a large “cushion” of fat and muscle not seen in other animal species. They sing by pushing the tissue against the fat and muscle cushion, Elemans said.

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