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, 8 (1), 13186

Some Things Never Change: Multi-Decadal Stability in Humpback Whale Calling Repertoire on Southeast Alaskan Foraging Grounds


Some Things Never Change: Multi-Decadal Stability in Humpback Whale Calling Repertoire on Southeast Alaskan Foraging Grounds

Michelle E H Fournet et al. Sci Rep.


Investigating long term trends in acoustic communication is essential for understanding the role of sound in social species. Humpback whales are an acoustically plastic species known for producing rapidly-evolving song and a suite of non-song vocalizations ("calls") containing some call types that exhibit short-term stability. By comparing the earliest known acoustic recordings of humpback whales in Southeast Alaska (from the 1970's) with recordings collected in the 1990's, 2000's, and 2010's, we investigated the long-term repertoire stability of calls on Southeast Alaskan foraging grounds. Of the sixteen previously described humpback whale call types produced in Southeast Alaska, twelve were detected in both 1976 and 2012, indicating stability over a 36-year time period; eight call types were present in all four decades and every call type was present in at least three decades. We conclude that the conservation of call types at this temporal scale is indicative of multi-generational persistence and confirms that acoustic communication in humpback whales is comprised of some highly stable call elements in strong contrast to ever-changing song.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Spectrograms of the (a) descending moan call and (b) growl call over time (FFT 1375, 50% overlap, Hann window). Descending moan calls (n = 3) were commonly misclassified as growl calls (n = 220) despite structural differences discernable by a human observer.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Spectrograms of commonly produced call types found in Southeast Alaska over time. (a) Feeding call examples by year (FFT 4771, 50% overlap, Hann window). (b) Droplet call examples by year (FFT 1375, 50% overlap, Hann window). (c) Whup call examples by year (FFT 1375, 50% overlap, Hann window).
Figure 3
Figure 3
Boxplots of rotated principal component values for a selection of stable call types across time. PC1 corresponds to frequency parameters. PC2 corresponds to temporal parameters.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Map of survey areas. Blue denotes Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, where recordings were made in 2007; the moored hydrophone is marked with a yellow star. Green denotes Chatham Strait, where recordings were made in 1997 Red denotes a portion of Frederick Sound, where recordings were made in 1976 and in 2012. (Map data ©2016 Google, adapted in Microsoft ® PowerPoint ® for Mac 2011).

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