Baby Humpback Whales 'Whisper' to Their Moms

And that could be a sign of high intelligence
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 26, 2017 2:37 PM CDT
Baby Humpback Whales 'Whisper' to Their Moms
New research shows humpback whale calves "whisper" to their mothers, possibly to avoid detection by predators.   (Getty Images/joetsm)

Baby humpback whales "whisper" to their mothers, according to a paper published Tuesday in Functional Ecology. And that could speak volumes about the intelligence of these aquatic giants. NPR reports scientists—for the first time ever—attached recording devices directly to humpback calves. "It's like a squeaky sound, and some of them are really like grunting sounds," researcher Simone Videsen describes the results. The sounds are a lot different—and a lot quieter—than the songs sung by adult humpbacks. Scientists originally thought calves made noise when they wanted food, but that appears to not be the case, according to Science. Researchers now theorize baby humpbacks whisper to help their moms keep track of them while the family is on the move.

Mother humpback whales will occasionally whisper back to their calves despite being capable of making much louder noises, Seeker reports. It's possible the calves themselves are also physically capable of making louder noises. This suggests to researchers the whales are whispering to avoid being detected by predators—such as killer whales, which Videsen says "can use these sounds ... like homing cues"—or by male humpback whales that would break up the family. If that's the case, it could be evidence of high intelligence in humpbacks. “It can only make you happy to hear these sounds," Videsen says. NPR has a recording of the whispers. (Meanwhile, a new habit of humpback whales is puzzling researchers.)

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