Whale Songs and Friendships

          Whales once thought to be unsocial creatures are proving scientists wrong, and actually are very social creatures. Whales have shown that each feeding season they feed with the same group of whales. Scientists don’t know how they contact one another, but they are theorizing that it is through sounds known as whale songs. Some whales were already known to be social with each other, but now other species are showing that they too are social creatures. With this new data that they are finding a question has been raised and it still needs to be answered for the whales. Are whale social groups being torn apart by commercial whaling?

           New underwater recordings are showing that whales adjust their songs to match that of their singing partners. Scientists are theorizing that whales like to sing to each other thus strengthening the relationships between females in the group. A team of investigators followed a group of sperm whales in the Pacific Ocean, and a group of seven in the Caribbean. They recorded the whales using clicking sounds to communicate. The team of investigators found that 79% of the time the groups of whales were close enough to where they could see each other. Although they use their whale songs to identify each other whales aren’t simply using their songs to locate another whale.

          Studies have shown that when whales are communicating they will often repeat the phrase that their partner used. Whales will continue to repeat the phrase that their partner last spoke until the whale’s songs are in unison. When they repeat a phrase they won’t always copy the entire phrase, but will only copy part of it to speak back. When the whales copy the phrase they tend to use the same timing between pauses and the same timing between clicks.

Whales often sings tightly coordinated duets with each other, these duets help form bonds between different whales in a group.  Interestingly, studies have shown that only female whales form these bonds. These bonds have been shown to be beneficial, for the whales that have the most stable and durable relationships often give birth to more calves than those without these bonds. So, the studies have basically shown that the more these bonds form the more calves will be born, and the better off the species will be.

The longest whale friendship known today is 6 years long and had occurred between two mature female whales. Since whales are highly social animals that are tight-knit they could stay in a group for ten years or more. Scientists say that relationships between male and female whales has never lasted this long. It is unknown why female whales form better bonds than when male and female whales do. Female whales with this bond often are together when the different feeding seasons start. I t is unknown how they locate each other but they theorize that the whale use their whale songs to recognize each other. So when whales form these bonds you can know that the friendship will be for a long time.

2 thoughts on “Whale Songs and Friendships

  1. I never really thought about the fact that whales communicate, but I found it very interesting about how they sing and listen for echoes. In fact doing so helps determine the shape and size of the object in the distance by how the sound waves by the way they travel back. The sound waves travel back at about one kilometer per second. That is something I’m sure no one knows about because I had no idea sound waves could help a whale survive and help determine what is off in the distance of the ocean. You did a great job it was really interesting.
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  2. I guess humans aren’t the only ones who need companions. Whales live for a very long time (some for over 70 years I believe), so it makes sense that they would want a best buddy to hang around them, and who can sense what the other one wants.


    This article suggests that some Humpback Whales form relationships that can last for years. I wonder if other animals in the wild make friends with one another that last for years. I’ve heard about animals in captivity that make friends, and some are strange combinations like a sheep and lion. If a sheep and lion can be friends, two animals of the same species are guaranteed to be friends.

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