How Do Whales Communicate: How, Why, When, Frequency, And Several Facts


Have you ever seen videos on whales making sounds? Whales are in fact, one of the most vocal marine creatures to be found. And there lie several fascinating facts regarding their communication style.

How Do Whales Communicate
Image Credit: A whale underwater from Pxfuel

Whales communicate via a variety of sounds. To be precise, according to experts, whales interact via a complicated range of noises, such as whistling, chirping, clicking, and so on. All these are collectively known as whale sounds.  Whales, however, lack a vocal cord and make sounds by squeezing air through the throat.

Other marine mammals, such as dolphins, killer whales (orcas), and porpoises, utilize similar processes as well to emit sounds. There is another fascinating thing about whales: they can make sound by slapping sections of their bodies against the ocean’s surface.

Interesting right?

We have dedicated this post to exploring different facts associated with whales’ communication. We have tried to answer some of the most commonly asked questions to shed light on various aspects of whale sounds, their mode of communication, and other associated information. 

Why do whales communicate?

Communication is a vital aspect of every marine life. It is a way to connect with the other members of the school while hunting or fighting predators. 

Whales are gregarious creatures that frequently swim in pods and interact with one another through sounds. They can also use communication to alert other members of the pod if there is a threat. Whales communicate in a variety of ways, using a variety of sounds to convey various messages.

According to experts, clicks are used for underwater movement and recognizing physical surroundings. Whistles and squeaks, on the other hand, are used to socially interact. However, when whales create noises by flapping their tails and fins, they are attempting to scare away other schools of fish.

How often do whales communicate?

Whales use a complex set of sounds, echolocation capability, and other ways to communicate with each other. But how often do these mammals establish communication?

Since whales are highly social creatures, they communicate every time they want to get in touch with each other. Whales produce sounds while hunting, tracking each other, mating, and several other time. Communication is a normal part of whales’ lifestyles. 

What is a whale song?

Image Credit: A Fin whale song by Chris huh (CC BY-SA 3.0) from Wikimedia

Whales are fascinating marine mammals and their mode of communication has always intrigued humans. And do you know that there is something called a whale song?

Whales do not sing, but they do make a whale song, which is a repetitive sound pattern that resembles the notes of a song. Humpback whales and blue whales are the main producers of these sounds, which are repeated at varied frequencies. During the mating season, humpback whales, particularly the males, produce these sounds regularly to attract females.

The frequency of a whale song can range from 20Hz to 10 kHz, making it deep and of low-frequency. This haunting whale song can be heard for hours, if not days, from kilometers away.

The fact that it has a predictable melodic tone and the notes are repeated again and again like a choir is one of the chief causes it is dubbed a whale song.

How do whales communicate with each other?

We’ve never observed whales converse with one another in the way that humans do. Nonetheless, they converse and connect. Let’s take a closer look at how they communicate with one another.

Whales, like dolphins, communicate with one another using a variety of sounds. To communicate with one another, they can click, squeak, whistle, sing, or beat their fins on the water. They also employ spyhopping underwater to keep each other informed.

However, whale songs are not produced by all whales. Whale songs are only produced by humpback whales and blue whales (the world’s largest mammals).

How do whales communicate underwater?

Image Credit: A whale swimming from Pxfuel

Water is an excellent medium for sound to travel faster. As a result, fish that communicate using sound find it very easy to converse with one another underwater.

Whales do not have a vocal cord, but they have developed to interact underwater by making sounds of various frequencies. Because whales have different anatomy than humans, they could generate sounds by compressing air via their throat as well as a system of air sacs around the blowhole. Underwater, whales also use echolocation to communicate.

These mammals can make sounds that are much higher in frequency than what humans can hear.

How do whales communicate over long distances?

Even though whales are sociable animals, they do not always swim in groups underwater. So, how do they communicate over such a large distance?

Whales produce deep, low-frequency sounds that travel both quicker and farther underwater, thanks to the liquid medium. Whale songs from blue whales and humpback whales, for example, can travel thousands of miles underwater.

However, one of the most astonishing things that specialists are presently exploring is the ability of whales to interact with each other across incomprehensible distances underwater.

How do whales use echolocation?

If you’ve seen Finding Dory, you’ve probably seen Bailey use sound to assist Dory in her navigation. She was using echolocation, a process that lets whales, among other animals, discover objects via reflecting sounds.

Whales employ a sequence of high-pitched clicks to hear echoes as sound waves bounce off underwater objects or animals and return to them in the pitch-black environment of the deep ocean. The sounds are made by compressing air via the nasal cavity near the blowhole, which then flows into the forehead and is focused into a beam by a large chunk of fat called the melon.

The fact that the noises of echolocation are so high-pitched that whales’ ears are shielded is remarkable.

Why do whales use echolocation?

Image Credit: Toothed Whale Echolocation by Achat1999 (CC BY-SA 4.0) from Wikimedia

Whales, like bats and dolphins, can use echolocation, which is intriguing. However, it is critical to understand what function this strategy serves in their life.

Whales primarily use echolocation to determine the distance, orientation, speed, volume, and size of an object underwater. Underwater, echolocation also aids these mammals in locating their food. However, a new study has discovered that whales use echolocation to shock or disorient prey during hunting.

This approach is so good for whales that sperm whales and toothed whales can find a small squid less than a foot long from over a mile distant using it. Furthermore, scientists believe that this method could offer whales a three-dimensional vision of their environment as well. 

What frequency do whales communicate at?

Whales cannot talk, still, they communicate with each other using distinct sounds known as whale vocalizations. However, they make sounds at a frequency different from humans or other mammals. Let’s explore!

Not all whales communicate at a similar frequency. Different whales use different sound frequencies to vocalize or make a whale song. Here is a list:

Blue whale

Blue whales emit sounds that last between ten and thirty seconds and have a basic frequency of 10 to 40 Hz.

Fin whale

Long, intensified, and low-frequency sounds between 16 and 40 Hz have been discovered in male fin whales. The duration of each sound would be between one and two seconds.

Humpback whales

Humpback whales are amazing creatures that not only make whale sounds but also whale songs. These whales typically have an audio frequency between 80 and 4,000 Hz.

Sperm whales

Sperm whales can make short-duration or usual clicks at frequencies ranging from 10 Hz to 30 kHz. While foraging, these whales make these usual clicks. Sperm whales, on the other hand, emit sounds that can exceed 230 dB, making them the world’s loudest mammals.

52-hertz whale

Another form of a whale, a 52-Hz whale, has been discovered somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, singing at a frequency of 52 hertz. This is a remarkable frequency because it is higher than that of other whales of their species.

How do whales hear?

Apart from detecting objects and foraging, whales talk regularly to socialize. How do they hear sounds, though, considering they don’t have external ears?

Whales hear using their jawbones rather than their ears. The fatty lobes of their jawbones are linked to the inner ear, which aids in hearing. Whales can hear because vibrations created by sound waves reach the inner ear, which sends neurological signals to the brain.

Is it true that whales develop different dialects?

Anyone who aspires to speak without difficulty must learn dialects. Humans are prone to learning a variety of dialects. Do whales also acquire dialects like humans?

Whales, like humans, can acquire dialects. Recent research suggests that sperm whales can communicate in unique regional languages that appear to be strongly tied to different notions of culture. According to the study, sperm whales in the Caribbean have a distinct sound than those in the Pacific, which helps back the notion that whales can adapt their sounds. 

In this regard, it has also been discovered that whales sing consistently, which varies amongst whale populations. However, how whales adjust and modify their sounds and vocalizations is still unknown.

Do whales communicate with humans?

Whales, like dolphins, are intelligent creatures. They are highly clever and conscious of their surroundings, which includes humans. So, do they interact with people in the same way that they communicate with one another?

Whales are capable of communicating with humans. Spindle neurons are found in the brains of these mammals that are related to higher-level functions like recognizing, learning, communicating, adapting to changes, and so on. We can therefore conclude that whales are deep thinkers who can communicate and comprehend emotions.

How fast do whales communicate?

When it comes to sound propagation, water is an excellent medium. In fact, sound transmits 4.5 times quicker in water, making communication easier for whales and dolphins.

Low-frequency sounds from a whale can reach nearly 10,000 kilometers underwater.

How do killer whales communicate?

Image Credit: Orcas jumping out of the water from Pxfuel

Killer whales are not real whales but dolphins and are also known as orcas. These mammals are also adept at communicating in a variety of ways underwater.

Killer whales can interact both visually and vocally. These mammals can generate a variety of dialects of pulsed calls and whistling sounds. Orcas can also communicate visually, which is a trait that is frequently observed in them when hunting prey. In this aspect, transient orcas can hunt in a pod quietly.

Silent hunting helps these killer whales to gang up on their prey and surprise attack them, but it also requires them to use visual cues to orchestrate the hunt.

How do beluga whales communicate?

Beluga whales are adorable and gregarious. Scientists have discovered that beluga whales can build long-term social bonds with whales that are not related to them.

Beluga whales communicate primarily through echolocation. Belugas, in fact, are exceedingly vocal and “talk” through their nasal sacs, earning them the nickname “canaries of the sea” for their wide range of noises. These whales also used facial expressions and physical contact to communicate.

How do blue whales communicate?

Blue whales are the world’s largest mammals. These remarkable creatures, like other whale species, are social.

Blue whales use vocalization to communicate. Blue whales, like humpback whales, also interact with each other by singing melodious and deep whale songs. These whale songs are critical in assisting whales in tracking each other, attracting mating partners, and locating pod members, among other things.

Blue whales have a deep, solemn voice that may reach a frequency of 14 Hz and a volume of more than 180 dB. They also have an excellent hearing range of up to 100 miles. Scientists believe that blue whales’ low-frequency songs are the most intense biological noises in the water and that they are hypnotizing.

Summary

With this, we come to the end of this post. To wrap up, we would state that communication skills are at the center of whales’ life and interpersonal relationships. These mammals live in a social context, unlike lone creatures like sharks. As a result, they use different forms of sounds, songs, and even facial expressions to establish communication. Scientists agree that whales’ mode of communication is complex, sometimes unique, and highly engaging.

Recent Posts