February 19, 2012

One of the things that makes humpback whales so interesting to study is their iconic song.  Many of us first heard these haunting sounds when Dr Roger Payne published them in a vinyl, floppy 45rpm soundsheet in an old issue of National Geographic.

The Voyager space mission included humpback whale song with other sounds representing life on Earth

Generally, humpbacks sing on their breeding grounds (in Hawaii and Mexico), and are less vocal on their feeding grounds, although they do make grunts and other calls to coordinate feeding activities.  Our Quiet Ocean Campaign involves measuring underwater noise levels to see how much of these calls could be masked by chronic noise levels from commercial shipping and other human activities.  We were thrilled to hear humpbacks, well, “singing” on BC’s north coast feeding grounds in late summer.

So.  Two things:

1.  This is a recording of humpback whales singing in Douglas Channel.  We thought you might like to hear it.  We’ve saved it in M4R format for iPhones and MP3 format for most other smart phones.  Right-click or control-click and “save as” to your computer or smart phone, and iTunes will let you convert it to a ringtone.  Every phone is different, so apologies if it’s not straightforward to use as a ringtone on other systems, but please leave a comment if you have tips for making it accessible on other systems.



Zack Morris wishes he had a humpback whale song ringtone for that cell phone.


2.  Ship noise has the potential to mask these sounds.  Here is an animation (made by our colleagues at Cornell) of the acoustic footprint of one large container ship transiting Vancouver Island.  In our acoustics study, we’re finding that Douglas Channel has some of the lowest levels of shipping noise in BC.  But that could all change soon if industrial development applications are approved to expand shipping activity into and out of Kitimat.  Our research is focused on measuring how much acoustic masking whales experience from current levels of ship traffic, how much more masking we could expect if shipping levels increased, and ideally, how we can make important habitats quieter for whales.

But we’ll save the lecture for next time.  For now, let us know what you think of the humpback recording.


  1. Leah says:

    What a beautiful song from such glorious creatures! My hope would be to hear this ringtone on phones across the country in hopes of engaging people who are unaware of the proposed Northern Gateway Project. It kills me to think of so much vessel noise in a relatively quiet area which hosts an abundance of humpbacks, fin whales and orcas! … not to mention the risk of an oil spill 🙁
    Thanks for putting this together team!

  2. Gae says:

    Loved the recording–whoops AND groans–as did Roxie, who woke from a sound sleep to investigate. Alba missed the whole thing 😉

  3. Engineer says:

    Hello, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *