Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are some of the most vocal marine mammals living in our oceans. They produce a wide range of vocalizations and are incredibly famous for their well-studied songs performed by male humpbacks on low-latitude breeding grounds. Songs are typical to each population, but evolve year to year and can even be transmitted between populations!
Throughout the mid-19th and most of the 20th century, industrial whaling on the Pacific North-west coast decimated humpback populations, leaving many wondering if they would ever return to the area. Humpback whales are now making a comeback in record numbers, giving hope for population recovery in the Salish Sea. With them, they bring the unique opportunity to study the vocalizations of their rebounding populations from the beginning, giving us a special glance into understanding their song and social cultures. As a pre-migration habitat with an abundance of feeding grounds, the Salish Sea may not seem like it will host a great deal of humpback vocalizations, but that’s where you’re wrong! Over the past decade, humpback whales have been increasingly detected on Orcasound’s hydrophone network and as the population grows, the number of acoustic bouts do too!
This project was started with the objective to provide the Orcasound community with a publicly accessible catalogue of the most common vocalization types they will hear while listening to a bout through our hydrophones. A “humpback bout” can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours and can host a variety of odd, but beautiful sounding vocalizations. In a few cases, you may even hear a song, which is structured, complex, longer in duration, and has a very distinguished “theme” that is repeated. More than likely, though, you will hear what we refer to as “non-song vocalizations” which are shorter, random, and often less predictable. This catalogue was developed with recordings from the 2020 and 2021 seasons. We isolated the 12 most common vocalization types to provide you with a simple guide to analyzing and classifying humpback vocalizations as you hear them. This gives you the opportunity to jump in on the action and help Orcasound map the evolution of our marine soundscape in the Salish Sea!