Events & Media

The haunting "songs" of humpback whales have long been associated with the animals' breeding season and grounds, and, more recently, from feeding grounds and migrations routes as well.

Song behavior of individual whales, however, whether on feeding grounds, on mating grounds, or along migratory routes, remained unknown. But a new study published in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal PL0S ONE reveals a penchant for multitasking among the endangered whales.

The paper, titled "Humpback Whale Song and Foraging Behavior on an Antarctic Feeding Ground," was co-authored by Bren School PhD student Lindsey Peavey and researchers from from Duke University and the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

The authors followed ten humpback whales in the Western Antarctic Peninsula by tagging them in May 2010 with non-invasive tags attached by suction cups, to study foraging ecology and acoustic behavior.

The author identified background song on all ten records, the authors write, adding, "But additionally, acoustic records of two whales showed intense and continuous singing, with a level of organization and structure approaching that of typical breeding ground song.

One tag record, which also contained song corresponding to feeding lunges identified from the behavioral sensors, indicated that mating displays occur in areas worthy of foraging, providing the justification for the 'multitasking' descriptor."

The data area important because they "show behavioral flexibility as the humpbacks manage competing needs to continue to feed and to prepare for the breeding season during late fall. This may also signify an ability to engage in breeding activities outside of the traditional, warm water breeding ground locations."